The first pitch of Ian Kennedy’s spring was a fastball, a 91-mph offering that sat on the outer half of the plate. Kennedy entered his spring debut for the Royals on Saturday focused on refining his fastball command. His first result was a few inches off, staying up in the zone.
White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton ambushed the fastball, crushing a double to left-center. Kennedy shook off the miss and returned to the rubber.
“You try to get your reps in,” Kennedy said, “and right off the bat, I had to work with a guy on second and no outs.”
The rest of Kennedy’s spring debut was more routine. As the Royals returned home to play their fourth game of the Cactus League schedule, the club’s most high-profile pitching acquisition of the offseason worked two innings, allowing a run and three hits in a 7-6 loss to Chicago at Surprise Stadium.
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Kennedy threw 34 pitches and recorded three strikeouts, showcasing a deceptive change-up that yielded swings and misses on his final two strikeouts. His fastball also displayed a little bit of rust. He allowed three hits in the top of the first, including an RBI double to Avisail Garcia after catcher Salvador Perez erased Eaton at third on an unwise stolen-base attempt.
“I’ve been trying to establish my fastball command,” Kennedy said. “My fastball command was actually the worst of all the things today. My change-up was working well. My offspeed, overall, was working better than I expected.”
Kennedy’s start followed outings by Kyle Zimmer, Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura. But in the early days of spring training, his appearance was perhaps the most anticipated. In the offseason, the Royals splurged on Kennedy, giving him a five-year, $70 million deal to eat innings and serve as a dependable arm in the middle of the rotation. On Saturday, he toed the rubber for the first time in a game.
“It’s early in spring training, first time out,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But once that command gets dialed down, with the use of that change-up … we’ll be good.”
The Royals, meanwhile, remained winless in the Cactus League, falling to 0-4 this spring.
Left-hander Danny Duffy, in the mix for one of the final spots in the starting rotation, replaced Kennedy in the third inning and was nicked for three runs and five hits in two innings. Eaton greeted Duffy with an opposite-field homer to left-center on Duffy’s first pitch of the spring. Duffy added a walk while getting his pitch count up to 30 pitches.
“I felt pretty good,” Duffy said. “Everything was coming out really good. I lost a couple of change-ups. I felt like I located the ball pretty well today.”
Duffy ran into more trouble in the fourth inning. Chicago third baseman Matt Davidson reached on a sharp single to left before Duffy walked Tyler Saladino with one out. Eaton continued his torrid day with a single to center, scoring a run that gave Chicago a 4-3 lead. Duffy escaped further damage by inducing a double play.
Afterward, Yost said Duffy’s command was off while his stuff appeared solid. In the moments after his outing, Duffy appeared unfazed by his opening performance.
“I never really worry about results here,” Duffy said. “That’s one thing I’ve come to find out. My results here, they really don’t mean much, until you get stretched out, until you get to the point where you’re throwing five or six (innings). I felt the mound under me. I know my stride was good.”
The Royals had an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth. Trailing 6-5 with a man on third, Christian Colon lifted a fly ball into foul territory in shallow left. The White Sox’s Courtney Hawkins made the catch and threw out Jorge Bonifacio at the plate, ending the inning.
The White Sox added another run in the top of the ninth. The Royals’ Cody Decker hit a solo shot to center in the bottom of the ninth, his first homer of the spring.
Yost offered days off to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, who was feeling better after getting hit in the right foot on Friday, and left fielder Alex Gordon. Perez made his spring debut and finished zero for three at the plate. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was also in the lineup for the first time, finishing with a double and two runs scored in two at-bats.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas continued a hot first week, going 2 for 2 with a double. Moustakas is 4 for 6 this spring.
Reliever Ross Ohlendorf ran into some issues during his second appearance of the spring, allowing two runs and three hits in the sixth inning. Left-handers Scott Alexander, Brian Duensing and John Lannan all recorded scoreless innings. Veteran David Huff allowed a single run in the ninth.
Reymond Fuentes, a candidate in a crowded outfield picture, started in left field and had two hits. Bubba Starling started in center field and remained hitless. Brett Eibner replaced Starling in center and drew two walks and scored a run.