Royals

Royals surrender season-high six homers, Vargas continues slide in loss to Tigers

Royals starter Jason Vargas sat in the dugout after he had left Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers in Detroit. Vargas allowed seven runs in two innings in the 13-2 loss.
Royals starter Jason Vargas sat in the dugout after he had left Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers in Detroit. Vargas allowed seven runs in two innings in the 13-2 loss. The Associated Press

As a white dot soared into the night sky, Jason Vargas’ arms went limp at his sides. He didn’t turn to watch the baseball, a two-run blast by Detroit’s Mikie Mahtook that slammed off an empty green seat in left-center field, 412 feet from home plate. Vargas reached for his jersey, wiping sweat from his face. Inside the Royals dugout, pitching coach Dave Eiland reached for the bullpen phone.

It was the bottom of the second inning. The end was nigh. Vargas’ left arm had labored for two innings as a precipitous second-half fall came into focus. The Royals were in the process of absorbing another drubbing, a 13-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

“We just got blown out,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, echoing a refrain that has turned routine.

Four times in the last nine games, his team has lost a baseball game by at least 11 runs. Facing off against four different teams, they have been outscored by a combined score of 54-2. The only common thread has been a pitching staff that has cratered over the second half.

On Tuesday, Vargas grabbed the baton. In the bottom of the second inning, he was bludgeoned for seven runs on six hits, a walk and a hit batter. The knockout blow came via a one-two combination from JaCoby Jones and Mahtook, who clubbed a pair of two-run homers to open a 7-1 lead.

Jones whacked an outside fastball out to the opposite field, while Mahtook pounced on a 1-0 change-up in the strike zone. The pitches offered a glimpse at a struggling starting pitcher. For one inning, Vargas could not make enough quality pitches with runners on base, paying a hefty price for his misses. For two months, he has been incapable of locating the dominant form from his first half.

On Tuesday, Vargas dropped to 14-10 with his ERA (4.23) soaring above 4.00 for the first time this season. He was upstaged by a Tigers rookie named Myles Jaye, who took over when starter Anibal Sanchez was struck in the calf by a comebacker from Whit Merrifield in the top of the first.

Vargas blamed neither fatigue nor a heavy workload coming off Tommy John surgery. He pointed the finger at himself. He was too predictable with runners on, he said. He could not pitch out of trouble.

“Just doing some things in predictable fashions,” he said. “Whether that be just mannerisms or the way the that I’m going about setting up hitters and then leaving a pitch up in the strike zone. It’s really just about me being able to execute pitches out of the stretch.”

The loss dropped the Royals (68-69) back under .500 entering a series finale on Wednesday night. With each loss, the playoff math becomes more grim. The grains of sand empty from the hourglass. A final run with a core of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain heads toward a premature end.

The Royals are now 3-2 on this road trip, a somewhat strange detail considering they have been outscored 46-20 in five games. And when the final out was recorded at Comerica Park, they stood 2  1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Angels entering the Angels’ late game at Oakland.

On the surface, the deficit appears manageable. Yet the Royals remain behind or tied with six different teams. And then there is the question of the pitching staff, which served up a season-high six homers to a piecemeal unit of young and rebuilding Tigers.

Trevor Cahill was nicked for three runs and two homers in three innings. So was rookie Andres Machado, who tossed the final three frames.

“Go get them tomorrow,” Yost said, as his team was throttled again. “Really not much you can do about it. Guys know that our pitchers are out there competing, trying hard. They just got hit.”

The Tigers’ power show began against Vargas, who is 2-7 with an 8.13 ERA in 52 innings across 11 starts since July 5. He has allowed 16 homers during that stretch. The steep regression has all but nullified a 12-3 record and 2.22 ERA in his first 16 starts.

In his previous start, Vargas said he felt stronger than his final line — five runs allowed in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. But as he took the mound in Detroit, he resembled a pitcher worn down by a large spike in innings following Tommy John surgery.

In 2016, Vargas returned from the elbow reconstruction procedure and logged just 32 total innings in a minor-league rehab stint and cameo in September. One year later, he appeared to hit a wall once the calendar turned to August and his innings total tipped over 100.

“Nobody else cares about that,” Vargas said, acknowledging the increase in workload but downplaying its impact. “The other team doesn’t care about that. Bottom line: If I’m going to go out there, I’ve got to do a better job of putting us in a position to win a game.”

As the rout played out, Lorenzo Cain drilled a solo homer in the sixth inning, the Royals’ 168th of the season. The blast tied the franchise’s single-season team record, set in 1987. The run was of little consequence. The offense managed just three runs against seven different Tigers pitchers.

When the night was over, Yost sat inside his office and pondered Vargas’ form and innings total. There are no plans to shut him down, Yost said. The Royals are desperate for starters. They may start right-hander Sam Gaviglio on Thursday against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium. This is where they’re at. So for now, Vargas will continue to take the ball.

“We’ve been trying to limit his innings all year long,” Yost said, before adding: “We’re not doing anything different. We talked about it the other day. We’ve probably saved 10 to 20 innings, which could result in at least two starts.”

Tigers 13, Royals 2

Kansas City AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

3

1

1

0

0

0

.281

Torres 2b

1

0

1

0

0

0

.254

Cain cf

1

1

1

1

2

0

.297

Orlando cf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.164

Cabrera rf

2

0

0

1

1

0

.296

1-Bonifacio pr-rf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.254

Hosmer 1b

3

0

0

0

0

0

.317

Gallagher c

1

0

0

0

0

0

.375

Perez c

3

0

0

0

0

1

.263

Butera c-1b

1

0

0

0

0

1

.252

Moustakas 3b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.278

Cuthbert 3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.220

Moss dh

2

0

0

0

0

1

.199

a-Soler ph-dh

0

0

0

0

1

0

.154

Escobar ss

2

0

0

0

0

1

.237

Mondesi ss

2

0

1

0

0

1

.130

Gordon lf

4

0

0

0

0

1

.196

Totals 31

2

5

2

4

7

Detroit AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Kinsler 2b

4

1

1

0

0

0

.235

c-Romine ph-2b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.242

Mahtook lf

5

3

3

2

0

2

.276

Castellanos dh

5

0

2

0

0

0

.253

McCann c

3

1

0

0

0

1

.261

Holaday c

1

0

0

0

0

0

.500

Hicks 1b

4

3

3

4

1

0

.315

Candelario 3b

5

1

1

2

0

2

.235

Presley rf

4

1

1

1

1

0

.312

Jones cf

4

2

2

3

0

1

.183

Iglesias ss

3

1

2

1

0

0

.268

b-Machado ph-ss

1

0

0

0

0

0

.285

Totals 40

13

15

13

2

6

Kansas City

100

001

000

2

5

0

Detroit

070

211

11x

13

15

1

a-walked for Moss in the 7th. b-popped out for Iglesias in the 7th. c-grounded out for Kinsler in the 7th. 1-ran for Cabrera in the 6th.

E: Sanchez (3). LOB: Kansas City 7, Detroit 6. 2B: Moustakas (22), Candelario (4). HR: Cain (14), off Stumpf; Jones (2), off Vargas; Mahtook (11), off Vargas; Hicks (5), off Cahill; Iglesias (6), off Cahill; Jones (3), off A.Machado; Hicks (6), off A.Machado. RBIs: Cain (45), Cabrera (77), Mahtook 2 (34), Hicks 4 (22), Candelario 2 (5), Presley (14), Jones 3 (10), Iglesias (52). SB: Mahtook (5).

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 3 (Gordon 2, Gallagher); Detroit 2 (Kinsler, Presley). RISP: Kansas City 0 for 6; Detroit 4 for 10. Runners moved up: Moss. LIDP: Gordon. DP: Detroit 1 (Kinsler, Hicks).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Vargas, L, 14-10

2

6

7

7

1

1

54

4.23

Cahill

3

3

3

3

1

4

61

4.86

A.Machado

3

6

3

3

0

1

48

22.09

Detroit

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Sanchez

0

1

1

1

0

0

5

7.07

Jaye, W, 1-0

2 1/3

1

0

0

2

0

37

0.00

Hardy

2 2/3

0

0

0

0

3

28

5.68

Stumpf

1

1

1

1

1

2

35

2.97

VerHagen

1

0

0

0

1

1

13

6.20

Wilson

1

1

0

0

0

0

13

3.56

Alcantara

1

1

0

0

0

1

12

0.00

Sanchez pitched to 1 batter in the 1st.

Inherited runners-scored: Jaye 1-1, Hardy 1-0. HBP: Vargas (McCann), Alcantara (Soler). WP: Jaye, Cahill, Wilson. Umpires: Home, Cory Blaser; First, Laz Diaz; Second, Doug Eddings; Third, Jeff Nelson. Time: 3:00. Att: 22,547.

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