Royals ruin no-hit bid, see Kyle Zimmer make MLB debut, but can’t rally vs. White Sox

Royals manager Ned Yost, pitcher Chris Ellis talk reporters

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost reacts to Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Pitcher Chris Ellis described what it was like to make his major-league debut. Ellis pitched a scoreless ninth inning on March 31, 2019.
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Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost reacts to Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Pitcher Chris Ellis described what it was like to make his major-league debut. Ellis pitched a scoreless ninth inning on March 31, 2019.

The Royals took the series, but they did not beat the Chicago White Sox into complete submission in their season-opening series.

The White Sox saved some face by handing the Royals a 6-3 loss to avoid a series sweep on Sunday afternoon. For a while, the 12,669 in attendance at Kauffman Stadium appeared poised to watch the Royals become the first victims of a no-hitter this season.

Instead, the Royals scored all three of their runs in the seventh inning or later to come up short on a day that included the major-league debuts of relief pitchers Kyle Zimmer and Chris Ellis. Zimmer, formerly one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, overcame numerous injuries through the years and spent all of last season rehabbing.

“I actually wasn’t too nervous once I got out there,” Zimmer said. “I just tried to sort of lock in and just see (catcher Martin Maldonado) and the hitter in there and throw strikes and attack him.”

The positive vibes from Zimmer’s feel-good story weren’t enough to rally the Royals after their offense sat dormant for the first two-thirds of the game against White Sox starter Luca Giolito, another formerly heralded pitching prospect.

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Alex Gordon’s line-drive single up the middle, his first hit of the season, ended the no-hit bid with one out in the seventh inning. A few pitches later, Ryan O’Hearn doubled to score Gordon from first, and Lucas Duda smacked a single down the right-field line to score O’Hearn and chase Giolito from the game.

“Once I get to two strikes, I just try to be as tough as possible — just try to battle,” Gordon said. “He made some good pitches that I was able to foul off, then left the curveball out over the plate. Besides that curveball he was pretty much on all day. Give him credit. It was a good at-bat, but he had a great game.”

Giolito finished the day having allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings. Giolito, who struck out eight, staked his club to a 6-2 lead through seven innings.

While Giolito kept the Royals’ batters at bay for the better part of the day, Kansas City starter Jorge Lopez went from lights-out to vulnerable in the blink of an eye. After having struck out four and allowed one hit in the first three innings, the middle of the White Sox order jumped on Lopez the second time through.

Lopez, who said he he felt good, wasn’t able to get his fastball up to the his normal 93-95 miles per hour — maybe due to the cold weather (40 degrees at first pitch).

“I think the curveball was really good,” Lopez said. “Fastball command felt really good too. I just didn’t have my (velocity) like I was doing in spring training. I missed it today. I was only 90-93 the whole game.”

Jose Abreu blasted a 3-1 curveball from Lopez off of an advertisement between the waterfalls in left-center field. Lopez wanted to go down and way with the pitch, but didn’t get it as far away as he wanted and Abreu punished him.

The next pitch from Lopez, a cutter to Yonder Alonso, also left the playing field in a hurry. The White Sox hitters hit back-to-back home runs for the first time since they did it against the Royals on Aug. 19, 2018.

After Maldonado paid a visit to the mound, Lopez got through the inning with just two runs on the board.

However, Lopez pitched into the sixth inning but got pulled before recording an out. He allowed four runs on six hits and one walk in five innings plus. He also struck out five in his first start of the season.

Lopez left the game with the bases loaded after a single by Leury Garcia, a double by Yoan Moncada and a walk to Abreu. Relief pitcher Tim Hill walked in the final two runs that were charged to Lopez.

“He did a really nice job after the double, runners at second and third, of making sure that Abreu didn’t kill him right there,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I would much rather take a walk in that situation, set up a double play, to bring in Timmy who is a ground ball machine in that situation especially with a lefty up next in Alonso. It just didn’t work out.”

Royals relief pitcher Kevin McCarthy, KC’s second reliever of the game, gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings before giving way to Zimmer.

Royals starting pitcher Jorge Lopez answered questions about his performance in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on March 31, 2019.

Zimmer, who’d undergone four surgeries in the previous seven years (six seasons), pitched a scoreless inning that included two strikeouts. Ellis worked around a hit and a walk to pitch a scoreless ninth.

“I loved it,” Gordon said of seeing Zimmer’s debut. “I mean, you’ve seen the ups and downs he’s had to go through as far as personally and injuries and stuff like that. This game is tough. When you go through many tough situations like he (did), when you finally get to see him succeed out here on the big stage — it’s really rewarding.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.