Among a number of problems that have wrought havoc on this Royals season, two were on display Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Starter Jakob Junis is prone to giving up home runs and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is a bonafide Royals killer who magnified the issue plaguing the Royals’ sophomore pitcher.
Lindor hit a grand slam in the fourth inning of the Royals’ 9-3 loss to the Indians. He added to the damage with a three-run homer in the sixth that chased Junis from the game after 5 1/3 innings.
Start after start, Junis has left pitches out over the plate that opponents have pulverized for a majors-leading 24 home runs.
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And on Monday, he was once more victimized by the long ball, as Lindor drove in a career-high seven runs with a pair of swings that knocked back any progress the Royals’ lineup had begun to make.
Junis has battled location for the better part of a month. He's lost and re-found the feel for a slider that, when good, misses every bat. He's compiled such consistently poor results that the ledger on his misfortune totals out to six losses, 31 earned runs and 12 homers in six starts since June 3.
At times during this stretch, Junis has flirted with precision, striking out at least five batters in three of those outings. But Monday night offered no such silver lining. Junis threw 94 pitches and only got the Indians to swing and miss at five of them, according to MLB.com’s Statcast system. He struck out just two batters before departing the game in the sixth inning.
“Inconsistent (slider)," Junis said. "Threw some good ones. Threw some bad ones. I got myself in trouble with a couple of hit batters and good teams take advantage of that."
Manager Ned Yost said the fix should be easy, and Junis agreed. Stop spinning the slider and it'll fall to the bottom of the zone as intended.
"It’s consistent mechanics more than anything," Yost said.
The trouble began in the third, when Rajai Davis started a two-run rally with a double down the third-base line. It continued in the fourth, as Junis loaded the bases in front of Lindor on a single and consecutive hit-by-pitches. Lindor, who has batted .342 (71 for 207) with 54 RBIs against the Royals since 2015, hit the second grand slam of his career in the next at-bat, smashing a changeup left over the plate for 409 feet worth of damage.
The relief didn't come until later, when lefty Brian Flynn stepped onto the mound for 2 2/3 scoreless innings after Junis hung a belt-high slider for Lindor's three-run homer.
Yet it was too late for the Royals to get anything started against Indians starter Corey Kluber, who allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out five in six innings.
"You’re hoping, OK, you’re getting on the board early," Yost said. "Kluber had a rough start last time, you’re thinking maybe the same thing. But he came out the second inning and really settled down."
A night that began with Whit Merrifield launching his first leadoff homer of the season and Mike Moustakas heedlessly barreling through third base coach Mike Jirschele’s stop sign on Salvador Perez’s RBI single up the middle in the first inning ended with the Royals’ 59th loss of the season.
They’ll try again Tuesday, with Danny Duffy taking the mound opposite rookie Shane Bieber at 7:15 p.m.