‘Fans, stay with us.’ Whit Merrifield says struggling Royals will turn it around

Royals star Whit Merrifield: Stay with us

Royals star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield urged fans to stick with the team after a 2-8 start. He spoke after a 6-3 loss to the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium in which he tied George Brett's franchise record with a hit in 30 consecutive games.
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Royals star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield urged fans to stick with the team after a 2-8 start. He spoke after a 6-3 loss to the Mariners at Kauffman Stadium in which he tied George Brett's franchise record with a hit in 30 consecutive games.

The pitch hovered over the outside of the plate, so Whit Merrifield went along with it, shooting a line drive into the right centerfield gap that traveled 103.6 miles per hour. As he slid into third base for a triple, Merrifield’s teammates stood on the top step of the dugout, asking for the baseball.

It’s a keepsake now.

The rest of the evening? Not so much.

Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 30 games, tying George Brett’s franchise record, but it came amid yet another loss.

The Seattle Mariners bested the Royals for the second straight night, a 6-3 win Tuesday in front of 10,366 at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have lost eight straight.

After the game, as reporters waited on Merrifield to reach his locker, he began speaking before an initial question came his way.

About the streak most prominently on his mind.

“Let me say something before ya’ll ask me about that,” he said. “We’re 2-8. We’re frustrated. We know you guys are frustrated. We know the fans are frustrated. We’re better than our record shows. We know we are. We’re gonna turn it around.

“Today was tough. The last eight games have been tough. We’re confident with what we have in this locker room, and we know we’re gonna turn it around. So we ask you guys (to) stay with us. Fans, stay with us. Better days are coming. They’re coming soon.”

After the game, Merrifield found a handwritten note from Brett waiting on his chair. “I’ll take that home and put it in a special place back in my house,” he said.

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But that was the extent of the positive vibes Tuesday. A struggling bullpen — which received reinforcements before the game — wasn’t to blame this time. The Mariners (11-2), owners of the best record in baseball, stuck Royals starter Jakob Junis with four runs over four long innings, though he and manager Ned Yost each believe he showcased good stuff. The Mariners simply aren’t missing much right now.

The Royals (2-8) appeared to be constructing an eighth-inning rally, but Dee Gordon made a pair of diving plays to squash those plans, a brief microcosm of his game in the field. He added three hits at the plate and a stolen base.

“I’m pleased with the way we’re playing — we just gotta catch some breaks,” Yost said. “We had opportunities where if it could’ve been another two or three inches (away) from Gordon, wherever he was, that’s four runs right there. We’re just not catching breaks. We will.”

Precisely 365 days earlier, Junis took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Mariners. On Tuesday, the slider aided six strikeouts but little else. The Mariners racked up his pitch count with a collection of foul balls. He needed 94 pitches to navigate four innings, allowing eight hits and one walk.

The Mariners lead the major leagues in home runs. Three batters into the game, they had another. Jay Bruce landed a ball into the opposite-field bullpen for a solo homer, his seventh blast of the year.

“I thought Junis threw the ball all right,” Yost said. “I just thought they battled really, really tough.”

Merrifield didn’t waste time extending his hitting streak, leading off with a triple. The 463rd hit of his career produced the longest hitting streak in MLB since Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman in 2016. He’s just the eighth American League player to reach 30 games since 1969.

And he draws even with the best Royals hitter of all-time. Brett strung together his streak during 1980, a season in which he hit .390. Merrifield has looped his streak over two seasons. He finished 2018 on a 20-game hitting streak, and he’s collected a hit in all 10 games this year.

“That’s the goal — get a hit every time I step to the plate,” Merrifield said. “But yeah, when you have something like this going, get it done in the first at-bat; it’s ideal.”

The Royals twice fought back to tie the game Tuesday — Merrifield scored on Adalberto Mondesi’s infield single after his leadoff triple and Billy Hamilton scored on a sacrifice fly.

From second.

Mondesi pushed Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith to the warning track with a third-inning flyout. Smith fell over and was lackadaisical in returning to his feet, allowing Hamilton to move 180 feet on the out.

Mariners starter Marco Gonzales didn’t allow much else. He is already 4-0 this year.

Hours before the opening pitch Tuesday, the Royals tinkered with their 25-man roster. They dropped struggling relief pitchers Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill to Triple-A Omaha, replacing them on the 25-man roster with right-hander Heath Fillmyer and left-hander Richard Lovelady, who is on a major-league team for the first time.

Lovelady, who compiled a 1.99 earned run average in three minor-league seasons, made his debut in the eighth inning and struck out two in a scoreless outing.

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