Call this season Jakob Junis’ initiation into the major leagues.
Of course, he's not a rookie anymore. But the Royals' sophomore pitcher hasn't stumbled into an unrelenting road block yet in his short career.
Junis led the Royals to a 5-2 win over the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night. Facing the best team in the major leagues for the second time this month, he again showed his mettle. (When he threw a quality start in Boston against the Red Sox on May 1, the Red Sox were then baseball’s leaders.)
Although he labored after retiring nine of the first 11 batters he faced on Friday, he scattered the seven hits knocked against him.
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It wasn’t his best start of the season by a long stretch. He only struck out three batters, and he pitched fewer than six innings for just the second time this year.
But Junis didn’t need to be perfect. He needed to keep Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorious and Gary Sanchez — the first quartet of Yankees to each hit at least 10 homers in the team’s first 40 games of a season — in the ballpark. He needed to invigorate the announced Friday night crowd of 26,433 with a slider that kept the Yankees off balance. He needed to halt the Royals' five-game losing streak.
And he did.
Instead of watching his home-run count climb for a fifth start in a row, Junis saw the Yankees struggle to catch up to his breaking ball. He induced seven whiffs and received seven called strikes on his slider. The only batted balls that found traction outside the infield amounted to little damage, as the Yankees never did string together consecutive hits off Junis.
When the Yankees scored the two runs on Junis' ledger, it was only after Royals manager Ned Yost removed Junis from the game with one out in the sixth inning. Junis had thrown 101 pitches.
"I felt good about Jake pitching," Yost said. "That’s a tough lineup but Jake can execute pitches. He can execute his fastball, change-up, really good slider, and he did it again tonight. Just a tremendous job."
The win secured Yost's 1,100th of his career.
How else they won: Whit Merrifield, who stole three bases for the second time this month and was 3 for 4 at the plate, doubled to lead off the first inning, robbed third base and scored when Salvador Perez blooped a fielder’s choice into shallow center field.
Later, Merrifield scored the Royals’ second run of the third inning when Hunter Dozier drew a six-pitch walk from Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia.
Perez provided insurance in the fifth inning, hammering a 402-foot homer to left field to snap a 0-for-13 skid. He later drove in Mike Moustakas with a two-out double in the seventh inning.
After Tim Hill allowed two inherited runners to score, relievers Kevin McCarthy, Brad Keller and Kelvin Herrera held the Yankees in check.
All eight hits that Royals pitchers yielded to the Yankees in the game were singles.
Up next: The Royals, who improved to 14-30, will continue this three-game series against the Yankees on Saturday at 6:15 p.m.