The season-long numbers still paint the Royals as one of the American League’s more-productive clubs with runners in scoring position. Not lately, though.
And that inefficiency surfaced again Thursday at a crucial point in a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins in the opener to a four-game series at Target Field.
The Royals trailed 2-1 in the seventh when Billy Butler and Salvy Perez opened the inning with singles against Twins starter Sam Deduno, who finally appeared vulnerable.
Mike Moustakas fouled off a bunt before sending a fly to deep right that moved Butler to third with one out — and set up the game’s pivotal moment.
Deduno responded by striking out David Lough on three straight cut fastballs before ending the inning by retiring Elliot Johnson on a fielder’s-choice grounder to short.
“He had a lot of stuff moving today,” Lough said. “I had a tough night. His stuff was really moving. I was just being aggressive. I was trying to get that runner in from third somehow. But three pitches…”
Three nasty pitches. Nothing.
It got worse later in the seventh after the Twins put runners at first and second with one out. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie induced a potential double-play grounder to third by Brian Dozier.
But Moustakas boxed the ball as Trevor Plouffe cut in front of him. The result was an error that loaded the bases.
“I was trying to do too many things at once,” Moustakas admitted. “Field the ball, tag the guy and throw to first. I didn’t catch the ball first.”
That was it for Guthrie, who threw 111 pitches, because manager Ned Yost wanted a lefty, Will Smith, to turn switch-hitter Pedro Florimon to the right side — a strong percentage move.
Florimon was batting .095 (four for 42) against lefties but lofted a fly sufficiently deep to left to score Plouffe for a two-run lead. The Royals, in sharp contrast, needed a fly ball from Lough and didn’t get it.
“That’s an at-bat where you’ve got to put it in play,” Yost agreed. “They had the bases loaded, and Florimon up who is hitting .095 against left-handed pitching, but he found a way to get to ball to the outfield.
“We’ve got to find ways to put the ball in play in those situations.”
Lough is merely the latest in a growing list of perpetrators. The Royals, 36-40, lost for the sixth time in eight games since reaching .500 and, increasingly, the common denominator is the inability to deliver a key hit.
The Royals were hitless Thursday in six situations with a runner in scoring position and, going back 11 games, are now 17 for their last 90. That’s a .189 average.
They have, effectively, become the do-little raiders. (That’s a small “d” and one “o,” so as not to be confused with the intrepid World War II fliers.) Their only run came on Perez’s booming leadoff homer in the fifth.
Minnesota’s two-run lead proved decisive in the ninth when the Royals mounted a threat against Twins closer Glen Perkins, who started the inning by walking Billy Butler.
Lorenzo Cain delivered a two-out pinch double to right. In a one-run game, pinch-runner Jeff Francoeur likely scores the tying run. Down two, he held third because his run, in itself, was meaningless.
Perkins then ended the game when pinch-hitter Miguel Tejada hit a hard grounder to third for the final out. Fitting, perhaps. Definitely frustrating.
“It’s absolutely ebb and flow,” Yost said. “We keep coming after you. It was good to see Lorenzo Cain smoke a ball. … Miggy hit the ball right on the nose but right at the third baseman. You can’t do anything about that.”
The Royals didn’t do much about Deduno either. Again. He shackled them for the second time in 24 days by yielding just one run and five hits in seven innings.
Deduno, now 4-2, worked six-plus innings June 4 in a 3-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
“Everything moves,” Butler said. “Some pitches have more movement than others. He’s just very efficient with his stuff. If you look at him, he’s been pretty good all year with his stuff. He’s been tough on us.”
Jared Burton worked around a one-out single in the eighth before Perkins held on for his 20th save in 22 chances. Guthrie fell to 7-6 by losing a third straight decision despite allowing just two earned runs in 61/3 innings.
The loss cost the Royals another chance to pick up a game on struggling division leader Detroit. They remain 51/2 games behind the Tigers but are now just one-half game ahead of fourth-place Minnesota.
Alex Gordon’s weak single to open the game provided the only base-runner until Clete Thomas grounded a leadoff single up the middle in the Minnesota fourth.
Guthrie retired Joe Mauer on a fly to center, but Thomas moved to second on Josh Willingham’s ground single through the left-side hole just beyond Moustakas’ reach
“It was a well-placed ball,” Moustakas said, “but I feel I should have made that play, too. (Guthrie) went out there and battled for us tonight. He got ground balls when he needed to, and I just wasn’t able to make the plays.”
Justin Morneau followed by poking an RBI double past third for a 1-0 lead. Oswaldo Arcia’s single to right-center made it 2-0 as Morneau stopped at third before Plouffe grounded into a double play.
“(Guthrie) gave up four hits in the fourth,” Yost said, “but none of them were of the crispy variety. They all found holes. … Anytime you can hold the opposition to three runs or less, your pitching staff has done a heck of a job.”
That do-little attack on the other hand…