Jakob Junis, Glenn Sparkman hold down Rays as Royals sweep doubleheader

As it turns out, a week didn’t make a darn bit of difference for either Royals pitcher Jakob Junis or Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell. Both made their second consecutive start against the respective offenses they faced on Wednesday, and the results were pretty much carryovers from their previous outings.

In separate halves of a doubleheader swept by the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, Junis continued to enjoy success against the Rays, as he did in Florida last week. Meanwhile, the Royals continued to have Snell’s number — chasing the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner shy of four innings — just as they did last week.

After a 3-2 win in the opener, the Royals won the second game 8-2 after generating the lion’s share of their offense against Snell in front of an announced crowd of 11,411. The Royals last swept a traditional doubleheader (non-split) at Cleveland in September 2008, and pitcher Glenn Sparkman picked up his first win in the majors in his 21st appearance (fourth start).

“My focus today was just stay relaxed,” said Sparkman, who arrived in town around 1 a.m. after being called up from Triple-A. “I just needed to go out there, stay calm and don’t let the game get too big.”

There was even a symmetrical aspect to the two games on Wednesday, with the Royals (11-20) putting up a three-run first inning in each game.

Jorge Soler’s one-out RBI single drove in Whit Merrifield from third after a double and a stolen base. That started the scoring in the second game.

At the time it looked like Soler’s single may have saved the Royals from coming away empty in the inning, but then recently called-up third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez hit the first pitch from Snell down the right field line and off the foul pole for the first home run of his big-league career. The two-run shot put the Royals up 3-0.

“Ready for fastball, always,” Gutierrez said of his at-bat.

In the third, Soler added an RBI double after Adalberto Mondesi walked, stole second and stole third.

“The first game, we scored three in the first just like we did here (in the second), but we just could not tack on another run,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We all know the importance of tacking on runs. You need to continue. Thankfully for us in the first game, the bullpen and our pitching held firm and it was enough.

“We scored three in the first (in the second game) and it’s like ‘Come on. We’ve got to take advantage of some of these situations, especially against Snell.’ Our 26th man is pitching a great game, but you want to try to give him as much leeway as you possibly can.”

The Royals forced Snell, the most dominant pitcher in the AL last season, out of the game before he recorded an out in a four-run fourth inning.

Rays manager Kevin Cash took the ball from Snell after he walked Cam Gallagher, gave up a single to Terrance Gore and an RBI single by Billy Hamilton over a drawn-in infield.

Snell gave up seven earned runs on three walks and six hits, including one home run, in three innings.

Meanwhile, Sparkman, added to the roster to make the start for the Royals in the second game, pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed just three hits, one walk and struck out six in his first start of the season in the majors. He also picked up his first big-league win.

In the first game, Junis posted his best start of the season and made his club’s three runs stand tall for his third win of the season. The Royals improved to 3-7 in one-run games.

Junis scattered six hits and two walks over 6 1/3 innings to match his longest outing of the season, against Cleveland on April 14. He struck out two. He has now allowed just three earned runs in his last two starts (11 1/3 innings) against the Rays.

“Having some success in Tampa with that start, we kinda just went in sticking with the same game plan,” Junis said. “We were going to adjust on the fly if we needed to. Not as many strikeouts today, obviously. They were probably sitting on my slider a little more, but we got outs when we needed to and got deep enough into the game to let the bullpen do their job.”

The Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the first on a two-run home run by Mondesi and an RBI groundout by Gutierrez.

The Rays (19-11) pulled within a run in the top of the second on Willy Adames’ two-run double.

The Rays had the makings of a potentially game-changing inning when the first two batters reached base in the fourth. However, the third batter, Kevin Kiermaier, hit a fly ball to left field which Alex Gordon tracked down running toward the wall. Gordon relayed it into the infield to get the trail runner, Avisail Garcia, out at second.

“That play was huge,” Junis said. “First and second no outs. Gordo makes a great play. We end up getting two out of it. Getting out of the inning with no runs was big time.”

Jake Diekman and Ian Kennedy combined for 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Kennedy pitched the final two innings to pick up his second save.

The Royals won back-to-back games for the first time since April 17-18 against the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees.

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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.