Junis has rough beginning as Royals lose series opener to Indians

Royals’ Jakob Junis gave up four runs in four innings against the Indians

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis allowed four runs on six hits, including a home run, and two walks in four innings in a loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Aug. 23, 2019.
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Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis allowed four runs on six hits, including a home run, and two walks in four innings in a loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Aug. 23, 2019.

The Royals actually outscored their hosts from the third through ninth innings. However, the Cleveland Indians made all the noise they needed in the second to collect an important win as they continue to chase a playoff spot in the American League.

Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis allowed four second-inning runs and the Indians pitching staff made that hold up as the Royals had to swallow a 4-1 loss in the opening game of a three-game weekend series in front of an announced 31,946 at Progressive Field on Friday night.

The Royals (45-84) wore white uniforms (pitchers wore black caps) and had their nicknames on the back of their jerseys as part of Players’ Weekend across Major League Baseball. The host Indians wore all black.

The Indians (75-54) were more than familiar with Junis, who made his sixth start of the season against them this season. They made Junis grind through each at-bat. Junis (8-12) needed 94 pitches to get through four innings. He allowed four runs on six hits (one home run) and two walks in four innings.

The start marked Junis’ shortest outing since going 3 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins on June 16. He got a no-decision in that start.

“They put some good at-bats together all night,” Junis said. “Even when I was getting them out, I was really mixing it up and going both sides of the plate. It’s hard to tell (how deep I could’ve gone). It didn’t fall that way tonight. One tough inning, and that’s pretty much the story.”

The Indians got a couple big hits in the second inning, including a two-run home run from All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, and starting pitcher Zach Plesac and the bullpen did the rest.

The Indians started the second inning with a single by Jason Kipnis and a double from Franmil Reyes. Tyler Naquin’s two-run single made the score 2-0 before an out had been recorded in the bottom of the second.

Naquin entered the series having batted .353 with a .389 on-base percentage and a .686 slugging percentage in 14 games against the Royals. Four of his 10 home runs as well as 11 of his 32 RBIs this season have come at the Royals’ expense.

Two batters later, Lindor smashed an 0-2 Junis fastball that sailed in roughly belt-high. Junis wanted to go up and inside with the pitch, but it stayed out over the plate and Lindor deposited it in the right-center field stands for a two-run home run that capped the four-run inning.

“They fouled off a lot of pitches, made me throw a lot of pitches,” Junis said. “That second inning got off to a rough start, and I just couldn’t limit the damage. I had a change-up cut on me to Naquin. It cut back over the plate, and he pulled it. The 0-2 pitch to Lindor, I didn’t get it up where we wanted it.”

Hunter Dozier hit an RBI triple, while Whit Merrifield and Alex Gordon had two hits apiece in the loss.

Indians starter Plesac (7-4) held the Royals to one hit through the first four innings. He finished the night having allowed one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out five in 5 and 2/3 innings.

Dozier’s RBI triple in the sixth inning got the Royals into the scoring column. Indians center fielder Oscar Mercado made a diving attempt to catch Dozier’s sinking line drive, but the ball got past Mercado and allowed Nicky Lopez to score.

Dozier’s eighth triple moved him within one of Merrifield and the injured Adalberto Mondesi, currently on a rehab assignment, for the America League lead.

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost reacts to a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland on Aug. 23, 2019. Starting pitcher Jakob Junis allowed four runs, while relievers Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont tossed two scoreless innings apiece.

The Royals bullpen duo of Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont (two innings each) combined for four scoreless innings of relief and just three hits allowed, but the Indians relievers allowed just two hits and one walk in the final 3 and 1/3 innings after Plesac left the game.

“I was really pleased with Zimmer and Staumont,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I thought they threw the ball extremely well. That’s a tough lineup over there. They’ve been swinging the bats pretty good. Both of those young guys come in banging strikes, good, strong downhill action, good breaking balls, pitching with some conviction.”

The Royals will try to even the series at a game apiece on Saturday evening. Right-hander Glenn Sparkman (3-8, 5.40 ERA) will start opposite Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger (8-2, 3.11).

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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.