The Royals have a new normal.
It won’t feature the constant presence of Alcides Escobar, whose franchise-record and majors-leading 421-start streak came to an end Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
It won’t feature starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who was moved to the bullpen after allowing 23 runs on 28 hits in 12 innings over a span of three starts.
And for the next week, it won’t even feature starter Jakob Junis, who was supposed to start Sunday but was placed on the disabled list because of stiffness in his lower back.
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As they lost to the Red Sox 7-4 on Sunday and dropped their ninth game in a row, the Royals’ new normal featured 2013 first-round draft pick Hunter Dozier at third base, veteran Mike Moustakas showcasing his skills at first base for a second day in a row and Adalberto Mondesi making a second consecutive start at shortstop.
Mired in a slump so all-encompassing that the Royals have lost 27 of 31 games, manager Ned Yost sat in his office three hours before rookie Heath Fillmyer threw the game’s first pitch and forced laughter from a group of reporters. He used the made-up word "scientifical" in multiple references to the end of Escobar's streak and deadpanned his way through questions about the future of the rotation.
Then Yost sobered and admitted it's time for the Royals to turn the page. For now, Rule 5 acquisition Burch Smith will pitch in Hammel's spot in the rotation, Escobar will continue to flaunt his versatility and Fillmyer will hold the fort until Junis can return.
"I don’t want to lose 115 games," he said. "I don’t like losing nine games in a row. It’s not fun doing that. It wears you out. But the thing that kind of keeps me going and my coaches going is I don’t pay attention to the record. I’m looking at the progress of the (Brad) Kellers, Mondesis, Doziers, (Rosell) Herreras, (Jorge) Bonifacios, Timmy Hill, (Glenn) Sparkman now, Burch Smith. How are we coming with these kids that we may want to continue to move forward with? Who’s going to be pieces of it when we get to be in a spot where we can compete again? That’s the focus and that’s what we’re looking at right here."
The Royals took their first steps in that direction against Red Sox starter Rick Porcello. They tagged him for nine hits, including a two-run double to Bonifacio and an RBI single to Mondesi, and three runs over seven innings.
Whit Merrifield, who went a career-high 5-for-5, tacked on a run with an RBI single off reliever Tyler Thornberg in the ninth.
"He’s been our most consistent player offensively the whole season," Yost said. "Had a great day again today. He’s been a catalyst for us."
But with Fillmyer allowing four runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings and Sparkman, who was added to the 40-man roster hours before the game, giving up three in 1 2/3 innings, the Royals were unable to bridge the gap.
The results still weren't what the Royals, who fell to 25-64 on the season, wanted. But they offered a glimpse of what could be.
"I’ve been really proud of how these guys have gone about their business everyday," Yost said. "They’re playing hard. They’re not being very productive, but they’re playing hard and they’re playing with energy and they’re playing with enthusiasm. And that’s all you can ask right now and hope that somewhere down the road we can get over the hump with some production and win some games.”