KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — The worst-performing bullpen in the American League prompted a pregame move Friday, Royals manager Ned Yost trying something — anything — to find the right combination to close out a victory. Starter Jason Hammel had been the most recent victim of those struggles, his six shutout innings five days ago failing to hold up.
Hammel gave his bullpen a second opportunity Friday.
It returned him an identical outcome.
After Hammel departed with a two-run lead on Friday, the Royals bullpen couldn’t make it stick, and the Angels escaped with a 5-4 win in front of an announced crowd of 15,011 at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals reliever Justin Grimm was charged with the blown save in the eighth inning after the Angels flipped a one-run deficit into a one-run lead in the frame. Luis Valbuena had the game-tying single, one of three hits in the inning, and Ian Kinsler followed with a go-ahead sacrifice fly.
The Royals losing streak hit four games. The Angels have won six straight.
The difference? Those bullpens. Five Angels relievers combined for four shutout innings, finished off by closer Keynan Middleton. They escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth, the Royals failing to tack on to a 4-2 lead. Blake Wood was credited with the win.
The Royals' Jon Jay led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a single, but Abraham Almonte grounded into his second double play of the game. Whit Merrifield followed with a two-out walk before he was caught stealing to end the game with Mike Moustakas standing at the plate.
Hammel has allowed just two runs over his past two starts, but he’ll take his next turn in the rotation in search of his first victory of 2018. This time, he even had some offensive support. Well, relatively speaking.
The Royals scored more than three runs for just the second time since opening day, a brutal stretch of offensive ineptness marked by a mix of cold weather and ineffectiveness with runners in scoring position.
The temperature warmed Friday, and the production with men on base followed. Cam Gallagher, Merrifield and Paulo Orlando each delivered run-scoring singles with men in scoring position.
The Angels aided the cause. When Gallagher sent a bloop single to left field, shortstop Andrelton Simmons retrieved the ball and fired wildly to home, allowing a second run to score. Gallagher wound up at third base on a ball that traveled only 200 feet from home plate. Effective in the stat line. It gave the Royals a 4-2 lead.
The Royals entered the game with a .187 average with runners in scoring position, third worst in the majors. The problem reemerged in the sixth. The Royals loaded the bases with one out, but Gallagher struck out looking, and Almonte grounded out to second. With Jay given the night off (until he came on as a pinch hitter in the ninth), Almonte started in center field and assumed Jay's spot in the order.
Hammel lasted 5 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on eight hits, both coming on Albert Pujols’ third-inning home run. Hammel completed six shutout innings his last time out, but the bullpen failed to hold a 1-0 lead in Cleveland, and he was left with a no-decision.
Within the next few weeks, Pujols will almost certainly become the 32nd player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits. His trek toward baseball royalty has included more success at Kauffman Stadium than any other American League stadium other than his own.
Hit No. 2,986 for Pujols finished in the left-field seats here, 367 feet from home plate. Pujols, the former Fort Osage star, turned on an inside fastball off the plate for a two-run homer in the third inning, opening the scoring Friday. Hit No. 2,987 found right field for a two-out, run-scoring single in the seventh that cut the Royals' lead to 4-3.
Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney made his first start of 2018 after missing the start of the season with an elbow injury. He struck out four of the first seven batters.
The effectiveness dipped afterwards, but he finished with seven strikeouts. He allowed four runs (three earned) over his five innings.