An eight-run inning dooms Jason Hammel, Royals in loss to Astros

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel, right, talks with catcher Drew Butera, center, and pitching coach Cal Eldred, left, during the second inning Sunday in Houston.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel, right, talks with catcher Drew Butera, center, and pitching coach Cal Eldred, left, during the second inning Sunday in Houston. Associated Press

After beginning a three-game series here with a win over the best team in baseball, the Royals couldn’t retain momentum against the Astros. They lost 11-3 on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, dropping their second game in a row after starting pitcher Jason Hammel imploded in the second inning.

Astros infielder Yuli Gurriel led off the frame with a double. Then, as the 10th batter of the inning, he lifted a 92 mph fastball thrown in on his hands to the Crawford Boxes in left field for a grand slam.

The home run capped an eight-run frame in which Hammel tossed 34 pitches to 11 batters, was on the short end of a catcher’s interference that allowed a run to score, gave up two-run single to Jose Altuve and issued three walks.

“Hard to wrap your head around," said Hammel, who was charged with nine runs (seven earned) on six hits in four innings. "Eight runs on basically two swings. But five walks. You put guys on base for free and make mistakes and that’s what happens.”

The mistakes sealed the Royals’ fate. They could score just once off Astros starter Gerrit Cole, who surrendered a solo homer to Lucas Duda during a five-inning outing, and twice off an Astros bullpen that yielded three hits.

A road trip that began with a pair of heroic moments from Rosell Herrera two days ago has quickly gone awry. For the 18th time this month, an opposing team held the Royals to fewer than four runs. They’ve taken advantage of a Royals offense that has battled consistency all of June, batting at a majors-worst .186 (127 for 683) rate during a 3-18 stretch.

The Royals will need to win four of their next five games to avoid posting the worst June record in team history. With a two-game series against the National League Central division-leading Brewers looming after Monday’s detour to Kansas City, where the Royals will make up a game with the Angels, accomplishing such a feat won’t come easy.

Fillmyer debuts: The Royals stayed away from rookie pitcher Heath Fillmyer, called up from Class AAA Omaha after Kelvin Herrera was traded on Monday, for four games. But when they found themselves trailing 9-1 after four innings on Saturday, Fillmyer was afforded the chance to make his major-league debut.

He pitched four innings of two-run baseball, holding the Astros to three hits in relief of Hammel. He recorded one strikeout and walked two.

"The days allowed me to visualize myself on the mound and see things," Fillmyer said. "Being on the field and being able to interact with all the guys, they always help. ... Everybody had great advice and I tried to use as much as I could to prepare myself before I stepped on the mound."

Nearing return: Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who began a rehab assignment June 13 in anticipation of the end of his season-opening 80-game suspension, has batted .415 with five doubles, one triple and nine RBIs for the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers in 10 games. He’s struck out 11 times in 41 at-bats but has an on-base percentage of .478. He was not in Sunday’s starting lineup.

DL updates: A pair of Royals players on the disabled list who’ve relocated to the team facility in Surprise, Ariz., to continue their recovery are stuck in neutral. Infielder Cheslor Cuthbert (lower back strain) has not yet participated in a game and reported stiffness after running the bases earlier this week. There’s no timetable for his return.

“It’s not anything major,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s time-consuming.”

Pitcher Nathan Karns, who's been on the disabled list all season and hasn't pitched in the major leagues since last May, is still in limbo. He hasn't been able to shake the inflammation in his right elbow.

But rookie pitcher Eric Skoglund, who is on the 60-day disabled list because of an ulnar collateral ligament sprain in his left elbow, told team officials he felt fine throwing on flat ground Saturday afternoon. He was scheduled to throw a 20-pitch bullpen Sunday.

Up next: The Royals, who fell to 23-54, interrupt this three-city road trip to make up a postponed game with the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium at 3:15 p.m. Monday. Rookie Brad Keller will start opposite left-hander Tyler Skaggs.