Royals

Royals can't solve Chris Sale, fall 8-3 to the Red Sox

Ned Yost on Strahm's stuggles, Sale's dominance

Royals manager Ned Yost discussed Matt Strahm's command issues after an 8-3 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday.
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Royals manager Ned Yost discussed Matt Strahm's command issues after an 8-3 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday.

On a Tuesday last December, inside a posh hotel in National Harbor, Md., the Royals and Boston Red Sox engineered a pair of trades that would shape their 2017 seasons.

In a suite on an upper floor, the Royals brain trust hammered out the details on a deal that would send closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for Jorge Soler, a decision that would trim salary and flip a short-term asset for a long-term piece. A few hours earlier, tucked in his own corner of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski planned something even more audacious: a blockbuster deal to acquire White Sox ace Chris Sale.

As news of the Sale trade shook up baseball’s Winter Meetings, spreading across the property, Royals manager Ned Yost caught wind of the deal. The development delighted him, he said. After years of battling Sale in the American League Central, Yost let out a brief sigh of relief.

“I was glad we didn’t have to see him four or five times a year,” he said.

Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium put that feeling on full display. In an 8-3 loss to the Red Sox, the Royals managed just one run and two hits in eight innings before a late strike in the ninth. Rookie Jorge Bonifacio roped a two-run blast to deep left-center, ruining Sale’s quest for a complete game. The rest of the night was a reminder of how nasty Sale can be.

“We’ve seen him enough to realize how good he is,” said third baseman Mike Moustakas, who clubbed his 100th career homer in the second inning.

For 8  1/3 innings, Sale, the cantilevered left-hander, showed why he is a five-time All-Star and a Cy Young front-runner. He yielded just four hits. He struck out 10 for the 10th time this season. His ERA sat at 2.85 after he picked up his ninth victory, handing the Royals their second loss in 10 games.

“A guy like that, when he’s commanding all of his pitches, it’s a tough at-bat,” Moustakas said. “You just want to get early contact. Put the ball in play — or at least try to.

“He was on tonight.”

At one point, Sale retired 19 straight batters before stumbling in the ninth. Before that, the lone piece of damage came courtesy of Moustakas, who drilled his milestone homer to right field in the bottom of the second. After that, the Royals (34-36) were rendered powerless until Whit Merrifield drew a walk and Bonifacio clubbed his 10th homer in the ninth.

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As Sale breezed, his counterpart, Royals left-hander Matt Strahm, was tripped up in the fourth inning. In his second start since joining the rotation, Strahm was on a pitch count of close to 85 pitches. He did not make it to that number. He opened the fourth by allowing four consecutive hits and three runs. He was pulled in favor of reliever Scott Alexander with nobody out and the Red Sox leading 4-1.

“They were hitting mistakes,” Strahm said. “And I’ve just got to be better with more quality pitches.”

The Royals are attempting to transition Strahm from the bullpen to the rotation in steps. For now, his pitch count must be built up to 100 pitches.

On Tuesday, his arm was tested on a humid night at Kauffman Stadium. Strahm said the conditions did not bother him, citing his childhood in North Dakota. His arm did not tire, he said. Yet Royals manager Ned Yost mentioned the humidity as a reason for Strahm’s erratic command. As the night pressed on, his pitches strayed up in the zone. In the fourth, his fastball sat at 90 mph and his change-up was up in the middle of the plate.

“It looked like the humidity,” Yost said. “He was really struggling. He was changing his shirt every inning, just struggling to keep his hand dry. (It was) one of those nights when he was up in the zone.”

Strahm explained the struggles in more blunt terms: He must be better with two strikes.

“I kind of crapped out there in the fourth,” he said. “Again, just making quality two-strike pitches was my nemesis today and I’ve got to do a better job.”

Kansas City can still salvage the series on Wednesday when Ian Kennedy starts against lefty Drew Pomeranz in a 1:15 p.m. matchup. Pomeranz, a 28-year-old left-hander with a 4.19 ERA, will offer a difficult test. Yet it will pale in comparison to the challenge of beating Sale.

As he took the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, Sale led the American League in strikeouts (136), innings (99) and FIP (1.77), an advanced metric that resembles ERA and judges pitchers independent of their defense. As he maneuvered through the Royals’ lineup, he unleashed a 95 mph fastball, a disappearing change-up and a slider that confounds left-handed hitters.

The Royals, of course, have a history of breaking through against Sale. In a 7-5 loss to the White Sox last June, first baseman Eric Hosmer stroked two homers while the Royals put up five runs in six innings. In addition to Hosmer, Moustakas, catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar had all piled up decent track records against Sale in the last two seasons. Yet, on Tuesday night, Sale was in vintage form.

Moustakas clubbed a 440-homer to right field in the second, his 19th of the year. Escobar led off the third with his 1,000th hit in a Royals uniform. And that was basically it … until the ninth.

“The score allows me to be more aggressive,” Sale said. “We scored a lot of runs today and that takes the pressure off a pitcher because you can make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world.”

The Royals remained 3  1/2 games back in the American League Central after the Cleveland Indians lost to the Baltimore Orioles. After a step back on Tuesday, they will continue their long climb back toward .500 on Wednesday.

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They will not face Sale. That is the good news. As he stood in front of his locker late Tuesday, Moustakas attempted to explain the difficulty of hitting Sale. There is a 95 mph fastball. There is the slider. There is the change-up. And there is the command.

“It’s a tough at-bat when he’s throwing all of his pitches,” Moustakas said. “Especially when he’s raring back in the ninth inning and throwing 95 in the ninth.”

Red Sox 8, Royals 3

Boston

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Betts rf

5

0

1

1

0

0

.272

Young lf

5

1

3

1

0

1

.276

Bogaerts ss

5

0

2

2

0

0

.321

Ramirez dh

4

0

0

0

1

1

.241

Bradley Jr. cf

4

1

1

0

1

2

.261

Travis 1b

5

1

1

1

0

0

.409

Rutledge 2b

4

1

1

0

0

1

.233

Leon c

4

2

2

2

0

2

.233

Marrero 3b

2

2

2

1

1

0

.176

Totals

38

8

13

8

3

7

 

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

3

1

0

0

1

0

.288

Bonifacio rf

4

1

1

2

0

3

.250

Cain cf

2

0

0

0

0

0

.285

Moss lf

2

0

1

0

0

0

.184

Hosmer 1b

3

0

0

0

0

0

.305

Wood p

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Perez c

3

0

0

0

0

2

.283

Butera c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.242

Moustakas 3b

3

1

1

1

0

2

.277

Cuthbert dh-1b

3

0

0

0

0

1

.198

Escobar ss

2

0

1

0

0

1

.199

Torres ss

1

0

0

0

0

0

.333

Gordon lf-cf

2

0

0

0

0

1

.189

Totals

29

3

4

3

1

10

 

Boston

001

403

000

8

13

0

Royals

010

000

002

3

4

1

E: Cain (3). LOB: Boston 7, Kansas City 1. 2B: Young (8), Travis (3), Leon (6), Marrero (4). HR: Moustakas (19), off Sale; Bonifacio (10), off Sale. RBIs: Betts (39), Young (14), Bogaerts 2 (32), Travis (1), Leon 2 (18), Marrero (12), Bonifacio 2 (25), Moustakas (46). SF: Marrero. S: Gordon.

Runners left in scoring position: Boston 1 (Ramirez); Kansas City 1 (Bonifacio). RISP: Boston 5 for 9; Kansas City 0 for 2. GIDP: Wood. DP: Boston 1 (Abad, Bogaerts, Travis).

Boston

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Sale W, 9-3

8.1

4

3

3

1

10

110

2.85

Abad

0.2

0

0

0

0

0

6

2.57

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Strahm L, 2-4

3

7

5

5

1

4

75

4.80

Alexander

2

1

0

0

1

1

33

1.44

McCarthy

2

3

3

3

1

0

37

3.24

Wood

2

2

0

0

0

2

33

6.51

Strahm pitched to 4 batters in the 4th.

Inherited runners-scored: Abad 1-0, Alexander 1-1. WP: Strahm, Alexander.

Umpires: Home, Gary Cederstrom; First, Gabe Morales; Second, Adrian Johnson; Third, Eric Cooper. Time: 2:54. Att: 25,983.

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