The Royals trotted out their new acquisition James Shields in their season opener on Monday and he performed just as they’d hope, with the exception of one hit.
A 2-2 changeup to catcher Tyler Flowers stayed up in the zone and he drilled it to left field for a homer and the game’s only run in the fifth inning. Other than the mistake, Shields was as advertised, scattering eight hits over six innings and striking out six. The White Sox only had a few hard hit balls – the Flowers homer, of course, and an Alex Rios single later in the inning – getting a few bloops to fall in after fighting off inside pitches.
He mixed his pitches well and had good movement on his two seam fastball all day. Shields could have been more efficienct, but gave the Royals what they were looking for from the leader of their pitching staff. He threw 102 pitches with 66 going for strikes.
His counterpart, Chris Sale, was excellent and kept the Royals from making solid contact most of the day while striking out seven and walking just one. The hardest hit ball came off the bat of Salvador Perez in the second inning on a first pitch fastball, driving it to the wall for a long single. Sale used his changeup and breaking pitches to dominate the Royals and in key moments.
The Royals had the bases loaded in the third inning after Jeff Francoeur singled, Alex Gordon walked and Alcides Escobar reached on an infield single. Sale started Butler off with a slider for a swing and miss, got a changeup over for a called strike, then after a slider missed, went with another and got the swinging strike out. Mike Moustakas popped out to the second baseman in shallow right field to end the threat.
Another blown opportunity came in the seventh when Eric Hosmer led off with a single off Sale and Lorenzo Cain shot a line drive up the middle. Gordon Beckham made a great diving play on the ball, though, and what should have been a single was an out. Francoeur grounded into a double play three pitches later. In the following inning, Escobar got a hit into shallow left center with two outs and chased Sale out of the game. Nate Jones came in and gave up a walk to Butler, allowing Escobar to steal second and go to third on a wild pitch in the process. With Moustakas up, the White Sox went with lefty Matt Thornton and he overwhelmed Moose on three strikes, getting him swinging on a high fastball to end the inning.
The last chance Kansas City had came against Addison Reed. Hosmer walked after Perez grounded out leading off, then stole a base as Cain struck out, but was left standing on second as Francoeur offered at the first pitch slider from Reed and grounded out to shortstop.
Reed threw 15 pitches, six of which were sliders. Perez grounded out chasing one that was going to be low, Hosmer and Cain took two each as balls and the final slider was looking like a borderline strike. He probably could have waited on a better pitch since Reed had yet to locate a slider in the zone.
Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera both threw a scoreless inning each. Crow was erratic, but kept his pitches in control enough to retire all three batters. Herrera walked Rios on four pitches, but sandwiched a Paul Konerko flyout between Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo strikeouts to get through the inning.
Escobar and Francoeur had two hits each. Butler and Hosmer both had a single and a walk. The Royals stranded seven baserunners. they ran into a very good pitcher and the conditions were as different from the Cactus League as you could find, with a gametime temperature of 44 degrees with wind. Add in some shadows (though Sale would have been good, shadows or not) and it was a low-scoring environment.