The adjustments to the lineup constitute more than a simple reshuffling of the order. They’re wholesale changes, orchestrated by Royals manager Ned Yost to spark a team on the wrong side of the Mendoza Line over the past two weeks.
They couldn’t wake a scuffling offense.
Neither could a pair of dates against the worst-performing pitching staff in the National League.
The Cincinnati Reds left Kauffman Stadium with a 7-0 win Wednesday, the latest staff to silence the Royals’ offense. They swept a two-game interleague series, allowing only one run across 19 innings.
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The Royals (22-46) wasted a quality starting outing for the second straight night, this one from Jason Hammel. He issued 7 1/3 innings, the initial six without allowing a run. He gave up three in the game, just two of the earned.
“Just frustrated,” Hammel said, adding, “Losing is getting old.”
The offense remained stale. The Royals have 23 runs in 12 games in June. They have 11 over the past seven games. When Reds first baseman Adam Duvall supplied a ninth-inning grand slam, the one swing quadrupled the Royals’ output in the entire series.
The latest arm to shut them down was Reds starter Tyler Mahle, who began the evening with a 4.33 earned run average. Mahle skated through 6 1/3 innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. The Reds have the worst collective ERA in the National League, the number creeping toward 5.00.
“His fastball kind of jumps on you,” Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier said of Mahle. “It plays harder than it shows.”
As it did Tuesday, the struggles of the Royals offense stole the headline from a superb outing on the mound.
The topic of Hammel led Yost’s pregame meeting with the media Wednesday, a group of reporters inquiring about the key to the right-hander’s recent improvement. “Command,” Yost said, followed by a blunt stare.
Hammel threw 94 pitches Wednesday, and 65 of them were strikes. He recorded at least one out in the eighth inning for the first time since April 20.
“I thought he was in complete control for seven innings,” Yost said. “He really managed his pitch count.”
The Reds finally interrupted the starting pitchers’ duel in the seventh, taking advantage of Royals defensive miscues. Shortstop Jose Peraza doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a Scooter Gennett ground ball that snuck under Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar’s glove. Gennett later scored on a fielder’s choice, a ball that could have started an inning-ending double play if not for Hunter Dozier’s throwing error.
“I had plenty of chances to get out of some innings,” Hammel said. “A couple of errors, including some of my own. We gotta be better than that.”
Whit Merrifield led off the game with a single, and it stood as the Royals’ lone hit until Merrifield returned to the plate in the sixth and supplied a double along the third-base line. He and Jorge Soler combined for four of the Royals’ five hits.
On a night in which the offense was lifeless, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon’s defense was anything but. In the fifth inning, Gordon threw out Reds catcher Curt Casali from the warning track. It was his fifth outfield assist of the year. One batter later, he dove head first to take away a base hit from Billy Hamilton.
“They were just phenomenal,” Yost said. “The first thing that went through my mind is no wonder he is a gold (and) platinum player.”