His glove suspended in the air, Royals starter Ian Kennedy pointed toward his center fielder, acknowledgment of a play that had preserved a clean outing. As teammate Abraham Almonte reached the dugout, Kennedy approached him once more, ensuring his message of gratitude had been received.
Kennedy benefited from the defensive help early Tuesday.
He could’ve used the same from his bullpen.
Kennedy turned in his best start of 2018, but the Reds washed it away with a 5-1 comeback win after getting to Royals closer Kelvin Herrera in the ninth and reliever Kevin McCarthy in the 10th.
“I feel like we’re moving in the right direction between starts. I’m executing a lot more,” Kennedy said. “It’s nice to get this under my belt, but it’s too bad we didn’t win.”
Kennedy finished eight shutout innings, six more outs than his longest appearance of the season. Reds starter Sal Romano countered with eight innings, his evening blemished only by Hunter Dozier’s 425-foot solo home run in the fifth inning.
But one batter after Kennedy departed his 104-pitch outing, the Reds drew even. The Royals (22-45) turned to their typically-reliable closer, and Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart greeted Herrera with a ball that landed in the right field bullpen.
Just like that, the shutout was gone.
An inning later, the chances of a victory were, too. Reds first baseman Joey Votto unleashed a three-run triple off Kevin McCarthy to seal the Reds’ win in 10 innings.
With one out in the 10th, the Royals had Reds speedster Billy Hamilton caught in a rundown between third and home, but he eluded Alcides Escobar’s tag on his way back to third safely. Votto followed with the triple. Royals manager Ned Yost emerged from the dugout to argue that Hamilton had left the baseline while dodging the tag.
“When I tried to tag him, I say, ‘Oh my, God, where’d he go?’” Escobar said. “I thought maybe (he was out of the baseline), so I asked Ned. But that’s a great move by him.”
Hamilton would have been just the second out of the inning. Votto’s extra-base hit, therefore, rendered the play somewhat moot, anyway.
The initial damage had arrived one inning earlier, after the Royals handed the ball to Herrera, a bright spot in an otherwise dim season. His 0.73 earned run average entering Tuesday ranked second among all relief pitchers in baseball. Precise control has keyed that run.
The control failed him Tuesday. Herrera walked his first two batters of the season, and he threw 16 balls and just 15 strikes. Midway through the outing, Yost and a trainer jogged to the mound to check on Herrera, but he finished the inning.
“The issue was the ball was just very slick,” Yost said. “He was having a hard time getting a grip on the ball. That was his issue. Feels great. Just really struggled — his hand, I guess, was sweating and he struggled to get a grip on the ball.”
Herrera’s second blown save of the season robbed Kennedy of his first win since April 7, a string of 12 starts — and now counting — without a victory. He completed that outing without yielding a run. He did this one, too.
With that help.
The Reds loaded the bases in the second inning before Kennedy used the aid of his defense to escape unscathed. With one out, Reds shortstop Jose Peraza flew out to centerfield, and Almonte fired home on target to nab runner Scooter Gennett for an inning-ending double play.
“It helped that Abe threw a perfect strike,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes you need a game-changer like that.”
It kickstarted a string of Kennedy retiring 12 consecutive hitters before Barnhart singled with a a pair of outs in the sixth. He completed the frame one batter latter. No Reds baserunner reached second base against Kennedy after that second-inning jam.
The only support appeared in the fifth inning, a line drive from Dozier that met the left-field stands in a hurry. His second trot around the base paths this season concluded nearly as rapidly.
Kennedy threw into the eighth inning for the first time in 2018. He had not recorded an out past the sixth in any of his first 13 starts and had given up 30 runs over the previous five starts. On Tuesday, he conceded six baserunners over eight innings, three of whom reached in the second inning. He scattered just two over the final five.
“I thought he was fantastic,” Yost said. “I mean eight strong scoreless innings. He had everything going.
“... Really got his breaking ball going after that (second inning) and spotted his fastball well. Just an outstanding pitched game for him.”