Royals bullpen battered in a 10-2 loss to the Braves

The Royals had reason to feel good about their matchup with the NL East champions entering Wednesday night, having beaten Atlanta in each of their three games this season.

However, the Braves offense proved potent even with stars Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman sidelined by injuries. The Royals bullpen simply couldn’t slow down that offense once it got started.

Royals relievers gave up eight runs as they dropped their fourth and final meeting of the season 10-2 to the Braves in front of 16,931 at Kauffman Stadium. The Braves scored three runs in the top of the sixth, four in the eighth and another in the ninth. They had 14 hits in the game.

“Our pitching needs to improve in terms of pitch execution,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the staff going forward. “We make a lot of mistakes. We struggle to command down and away. Look, saying this is really easy. Doing this is really hard. It takes a lot of work to be able to do it.

“You have to be able to suppress offense, suppress power, by execution on pitches down and away. You suppress offense and power by adjusting timing and disrupting timing. It’s the whole gambit of pitching, and we just make way too many mistakes.”

The Royals (58-101) won the season series between the teams 3-1.

Royals infielder Nicky Lopez had two hits, a run scored and an RBI in the loss. Catcher Meibrys Viloria had a double and an RBI.

Lopez had a hand in each of the Royals runs. He tripled into the right-center field gap with two outs in the second and scored on a Viloria RBI double smoked down the first base line. In the fourth inning, Lopez drove in the club’s second run on a one-out RBI bunt single with runners on the corners.

Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery, who earned an ejection in his previous start last Thursday in Minnesota, went into the fifth inning having already thrown 75 pitches. He allowed two runs in the fifth after he’d retired the first two batters of the inning.

Montgomery allowed two runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings. He left the game tied, 2-2, after having thrown 97 pitches and recorded four strikeouts.

The Braves (97-62) scored three more runs in the sixth inning. Royals relief pitcher Jacob Barnes gave up a walk to Austin Riley, a single to Tyler Flowers and a walk to former Royal Billy Hamilton with one out before being taken out in favor of right-hander Heath Fillmyer.

“Got the first guy with a strikeout and just kind of fell behind and ended up walking Riley,” Barnes said. “Then the next one to Flowers, we threw what we wanted. I think I left it a little higher than I would have liked to and he kind of flared it to left. Then the walk to Hamilton.

“That’s just the one that’s frustrating because that’s a guy I should attack. I just kind of missed outside a couple times. That was the frustrating one for sure. Obviously, I put Filly in a tight spot when he came in. That was frustrating, walking Hamilton right there.”

Fillmyer gave up a two-run single by Dansby Swanson and a sacrifice fly to Ozzie Albies. All three runs were charged to Barnes as the Braves grabbed a 5-2 lead. Swanson enjoyed a four-hit game.

The Braves scored four runs in the eighth and another in the ninth.

The Royals will have a day off on Thursday before they begin a season-ending three-game series with the Minnesota Twins on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. Royals left-hander Eric Skoglund (0-2, 7.50) will start the opener for the Royals, while the Twins have not announced a starter for Friday.

Phillips makes a splash

Brett Phillips came in to play center field after Bubba Starling experienced left side tightness following an awkward throw to the plate. Phillips batted in the sixth and made a highlight-reel catch in the seventh.

“It’s just one of those things, Bubba tightens up right there and you gotta be ready to go,” Phillips said. “Opportunity is limited, rightfully so in September with all the talent here. When an opportunity arises like that, if you’re loose or not, you better be ready because it’s an opportunity to show that you can do something.”

The second batter of the seventh, Francisco Cervelli, hit a deep drive to Phillips’ right that seemed almost certain to get over his head for a double at the very least. Phillips tracked it down and made a diving catch as he slid on the grass and rolled onto his back a few feet from the warning track.

Phillips thought the ball was going to carry well over his head, but the wind blowing in helped him “tremendously” and allowed him to catch up to it.

“On a regular day with the wind blowing out, that ball is off the wall,” Phillips said.

Phillips, who joined the club via a trade last season, has made several eye-popping catches between his stints with the club last year and this year. Yost called it maybe his best yet.

“I thought that he had no chance of catching that ball. None. Zero. Not even a percent,” Yost said. “I was shocked when he caught it. I couldn’t believe it.”

When informed MLB Statcast data rated it just a three-star catch, Yost replied, “I don’t believe in that. OK, see that’s why I need to go home.”

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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.