Royals lose homestand finale, but appear to have growing trust in one young star

Brett Phillips reacts after a called strike during the sixth inning of the Royals’ loss to the Twins on Sunday.
Brett Phillips reacts after a called strike during the sixth inning of the Royals’ loss to the Twins on Sunday. AP

This wasn’t a good representation of the homestand.

The Royals lost to the Twins, 9-6, on Sunday afternoon, halting a three-game win streak and also pausing a stretch of success where the team had won 10 of 11 at home.

In truth: One defeat isn’t that big a deal at this point anyway. The Royals have long been eliminated from postseason contention, meaning the diehards still tuning in have done so with an eye toward 2019 and beyond.

So was Sunday a good sign for KC’s future? That depends on your perspective.

The negative was clearly starter Jakob Junis. After a string of good starts — he hadn’t given up more than three earned runs in any of his last seven outings — the right-hander allowed five runs in just three innings.

“He just didn’t have it today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s one of those days where he was grinding, grinding, grinding, but just wasn’t sharp.”

Junis’ biggest issue was an old enemy. He allowed three home runs, which included back-to-back shots by Tyler Austin and Johnny Field in the top of the fourth that chased him from the game.

“My command wasn’t the greatest,” Junis said. “I threw a couple of pitches that were pretty badly hung — some sliders. They took advantage of it.”

The effort came after Junis had been limiting the longball recently, too. He’d surrendered just one combined home run in six August starts, though that came before his last two appearances, where he’s allowed five to push his season total to 32 — second in the majors behind the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy.

There were still reasons to be encouraged, though. That started with Adalberto Mondesi, who continued to flash the type of elite talent that could make him a cornerstone of the Royals’ next contender.

In the fifth, Mondesi took a huge hack at a slider and paused a moment to watch the ball’s trajectory, as his 413-foot shot one-hopped off the Pepsi Porch and into the right-field fountains for a home run that tied it at 5.

“I just stayed short to the ball,” Mondesi said. “He threw me a good pitch to hit, and I got it.”

Mondesi also added two more hits and an impressive steal, which came even after Taylor Rogers appeared to pick him off first; Mondesi simply sprinted to second and beat the throw from the first baseman Austin anyway.

In 62 games with the Royals this year, Mondesi is hitting .291 with a .482 slugging percentage, adding nine home runs to go with 25 steals.

“I just think he’s really, really talented,” Yost said.

And maybe the best sign? Yost appeared to talk after the game about the organization’s growing trust in him.

Yost said he recently had quality control coach Pedro Grifol speak with Mondesi to see how he was feeling physically.

“He goes, ‘Look, I’ve programmed myself mentally to play every day. If you guys want to give me a day off, that’s your choice. I’m ready to play every day. I feel great,’” Yost said. “He’s progressing in all phases of his game.”

For his part, Mondesi says he hasn’t changed his routine recently to prepare for a potentially bigger role.

“I’m staying on top of everything I need to do (with training),” Mondesi said. “I just work out every day and stay ready.”

Ryan O’Hearn also continued to mash when given the opportunity. He went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, as the two extra-base hits were clocked with 106 and 108 mph exit velocities.

The Royals, now 52-97, begin their final road trip of the year with three games in Pittsburgh starting Monday. That precedes one more home series, as the Royals end their season with four games against Cleveland.

Things have definitely been better for the Royals at the K, where they have 30-47 record; that compares to a 22-50 mark on the road.

“I’m glad we’re playing better for our fans,” Yost said. “They mean a lot to us, and we haven’t given them much to cheer for all summer long, yet they still cheered for us.

“To have some success here at the end of the season makes it feel a little bit better.”

Jesse Newell

Jesse Newell covers University of Kansas athletics for The Star.