Eric Skoglund had gone more than three weeks without throwing a baseball in an actual game, his last 12 days spent as a spectator in the Royals dugout. And so 24 hours before he was set to return to the mound and open his 2018 season, he walked toward his locker and uttered one word.
“Finally,” he said.
The long wait left more rust than sharpness.
The Mariners pounced on Skoglund in the opening two innings, the impetus for an 8-3 victory Tuesday in front of an announced crowd of 14,850 fans at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals fell to 3-6.
A day after right-hander Jakob Junis took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, the Mariners (5-4) scored four runs against a well-rested Skoglund in the initial two innings. The tall, lanky left-hander did not make it through five. The final line — 4 2/3 innings, five runs, six hits — resembled the statistics with which Skoglund concluded 2017.
The life on his pitches did not. At least according to his manager. A year ago, Ned Yost said, Skoglund had a tendency to overstride, causing him to get underneath the baseball and leave his fastball flat as it journeyed toward home plate.
That was absent in his first appearance of 2018.
“He had great downhill action on his fastball,” Yost said. “I really liked the action on his fastball.”
It was the command that hurt Skoglund. Three pitches into the game, he plunked Dee Gordon with a two-seam fastball. In his first navigation through the Mariners’ order, Skoglund hit two batters and walked two more. He hit three in the game.
The Seattle lineup turned over before the second inning had concluded, with Jean Segura sending a two-run triple into the left center-field cap and Robinson Cano following with an RBI double to center. The lead was 4-0.
“I don’t hit guys, and I hit three tonight,” said Skoglund, who plunked three batters in a total of 122 innings between stops in Omaha, Kansas City and Northwest Arkansas last season. “Especially lefties, man. God, it gets me fired up. That’s not me.
“But it’s something I can build off of, definitely. I made some good pitches as the game went on. I felt strong. I felt good. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
He’s accustomed to that — waiting.
While his counterpart Tuesday, Felix Hernandez, improved to 2-1 in his third decision of the season, Skoglund was making his first start. He completed his final Cactus League outing on March 17. After Nathan Karns opened the season on the disabled list, Skoglund moved into the fifth spot in the rotation.
He wasn’t needed until Tuesday. The ineffective start, he said, was unrelated to the layoff.
“He's gonna be OK,” Yost said, adding, "His pitches had a downhill angle to (them), which are really, really difficult to hit. For the most part, I don't remember him getting under any pitches. So I was really pleased to see the action on his fastball. It was just the command."
Hernandez allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings. He received the most significant pushback from Mike Moustakas. The Royals’ third baseman drove in all three runs, two with a fourth-inning homer and the third in the midst of a sixth-inning rally that failed to take full flight.
On Monday, Moustakas launched his first home run of the season against Taylor Motter, a Mariners infielder asked to toe the rubber in mop-up duty of a 10-0 game. His second homer came against a pitcher with a better resume. Moustakas redirected a Hernandez hanging curveball 419 feet off the Pepsi sign that loiters in the outfield fountains. The hit cut the Mariners’ lead to 4-2 in the fourth.
“Feeling good at the plate, feeling comfortable, seeing the ball pretty good,” Moustakas said.
The lead had expanded to 8-2 before the sixth inning arrived, when Moustakas hit a one-out single that scored Jon Jay. Lucas Duda and Jorge Soler followed with walks to load the bases and provide the Royals with an opportunity to claw their way back into the game, but Dan Altavilla struck out Paulo Orlando with the bases loaded to end the threat.