There was a point where this one looked like it’d turn out to be a close game. Then two franchise players for Cleveland stepped in and put it out of reach.
After giving up eight homers to the Rangers in Arlington, the first game at Progressive Field featured more longballs. The Indians hit five on Tuesday. The first three were solo shots and didn’t do much damage, but they were also from the last two spots in the order.
Still, going into the seventh, the Royals were down just 4-3.
Then Luke Hochevar came back out for one more inning.
Starting the inning, he’d been operating efficiently even if he was giving up hits. He’d thrown just 82 pitches through six innings, but he wasn’t very sharp in doing so and benefited from a couple of double play balls. He gave up a hit to Jack Hanahan leading off, managed to strike out Grady Sizemore, but gave up another hit to Asdrubal Cabrera.
That’s when Ned Yost came out to make a change.
So not all the blame can go to Hochevar. But he still gave up six runs in 6.1 innings. He’s been true to his reputation where he’ll look strong for a spell and then give up baserunners and runs in bunches. He left balls up and never had much command all night.
Coleman managed to get out of the inning unscathed otherwise but the damage was done.
The Royals, as they’ve done all year, didn’t go away without a fight. Mike Aviles led off the eighth with a single and Melky Cabrera, who went 3-4 with a homer a double and two RBI, worked a walk from reliever Tony Sipp. Alex Gordon walked behind him to load the bases for Billy Butler.
The Indians called upon Vinny Pestano to put out the fire and he induced an infield pop up from Billy Butler. Despite recent struggles, Butler doubled tonight and has been working walks. In his eighth inning at bat, he seemed impatient and swung at the second pitch, barely getting it out of the infield. Jeff Francoeur followed that up with a strikeout on a pitch at about eye level and Kila Ka’aihue popped out to third. Threat vanquished.
A hit by anyone would have had a shot at getting a rally going, but the Royals haven’t been very good with runners on lately.
In the bottom of the inning, it probably didn’t matter that much that they stranded all the runners. Tim Collins walked Matt LaPorta and later gave up a homer to Grady Sizemore to put the game way out of reach.
The Royals have lost four in a row and could have been swept by Cleveland and Texas in consecutive series with a couple of bad breaks. If Joakim Soria doesn’t settle down and get the save on Tuesday or Melky Cabrera’s walk off single is right at someone, we could be staring at a prolonged losing streak.
Those events didn’t happen, though, so the team needs to regroup. Nobody expected playoff matchups to be in the cards, but the Royals have shown they can play some solid baseball early on. The bullpen is young and learning how to get major league hitters out, so there will be some rough outings. Ned Yost isn’t shy about putting them in position to succeed, though. Aaron Crow has been tested against the heart of the order multiple times and Coleman was brought in with runners on and Choo, Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner coming up. It didn’t go his way tonight, but it’s something to learn from.
That’s going to be the real test of this season – how do the young players react to failure at the highest level of competition? The organization trusts them, or they wouldn’t be up here at this point. Yost trusts them too, or at least thinks they can figure it out.
Meanwhile, Alex Gordon is still hitting and the Francoeur and Cabrera signings are looking like good moves. So far.
In the face of adversity, we’ll see how the team reacts. Former versions of the team would fold up and lose another six games. My hunch is that this group won’t go that route.
Jeff Francis (0-2, 4.06) takes the hill tomorrow against Josh Tomlin (3-0, 2.33). Tomlin allowed just six baserunners in 7.1 innings last Thursday in Kansas City before his bullpen blew the lead. Francis was rocked for six runs (five earned) in surrendering nine hits and two homers in Texas on Friday.