KC Royals: Bad bullpen work steals Daniel Lynch’s show

(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images) /

A rookie starter pitched well for the KC Royals Monday. The bullpen didn’t.

Don’t blame Daniel Lynch, the KC Royals’ rookie making his first big league appearance and start, for the unfortunate 8-6 loss his club suffered at Cleveland’s hands Monday night.

And don’t cast aspersions on Manager Mike Matheny, an accomplished former catcher who knows well the trials, tribulations, and psyches of young pitchers, for pulling Lynch with a two-run lead when he stood just one out short of qualifying for a win.

Instead, put the blame for this loss right where it belongs—on the bullpen, or at least two key components of it.

Lynch, summoned Sunday to join the Kansas City rotation, displayed a veteran’s poise and demeanor: he escaped his first major league inning unscathed after issuing two straight two-out walks, retired three in a row to end the second despite surrendering a leadoff double and committing a balk, and didn’t let a pair of doubles and a run become anything worse in the fourth. Yes, he walked four (pinpoint control has never been his main strength), but he struck out three and pitched well enough to win.

Some may hold Lynch primarily accountable for the two runs Cleveland scored in the fifth; after all, he was the one who issued a one-out walk to Cesar Hernandez, then yielded a fielder’s choice grounder to Amed Rosario that eliminated Hernandez from the base paths but left Rosario at first, and gave up a single to Jose Ramirez to advance Rosario to second and put the tying run at first.

That’s when Matheny, despite Lynch’s previous successful efforts to pitch out of trouble and a two-run, two-out lead, and with Lynch needing the third out to make himself eligible for a major league debut victory, elected to pull the lefthander. It was a blameless decision—putting the lead and game in jeopardy made little sense, especially for a team guarding a slim division lead after losing three of its previous five and with a rookie facing such a situation for the first time.

And relief was coming in the form of the usually reliable Scott Barlow.

Barlow, though, let loose a wild pitch that allowed Ramirez and Rosario to advance, then served up a slider too much to Franmil Reyes’ liking, and the Cleveland DH singled in both runners to tie the game. (Both runs were charged to Lynch, the product of the illogical scoring rule that requires such a result, but that’s a subject for another time).

Matheny turned things over in the sixth to Jakob Junis, the starter-turned-reliever-turned starter and the pitcher Lynch’s promotion displaced from the rotation. Retiring the side on 10 pitches was the best he’d do.

The seventh was simply a struggle for Junis. He gave up a single and walk before getting his second out, then surrendered homers to Eddie Rosario and Josh Naylor; Rosario’s three-run blast broke the 3-3 tie, and Naylor’s two-run shot extended the Indians’ lead to five.

The KC Royals scored three more times on Jorge Soler’s double and Hunter Dozier’s two-run homer in their half of the inning, but the damage was done. And irreparable, which Cleveland’s good bullpen—the Indians now have the third most saves and fourth best pen ERA in the American League—made sure of.

And although the KC Royals’ relief corps had been performing well earlier in this young season, its stock has fallen considerably. Relievers Tyler Zuber, Greg Holland and Josh Staumont held Cleveland scoreless after Junis’ departure, but Kansas city’s bullpen has issued more walks (55) than any other AL pen, and has the second-worst ERA (5.07) and WHIP (1.45) and has surrendered the fourth-most bullpen homers (15) and runs (61) in the league.

Lynch, of course, will have many more chances to notch his first win, and it coming soon is a sure bet. Speculating about what might have been had Matheny taken a chance on him in the fifth is pointless, but hard to avoid. In the end, however, Matheny’s decision was right, but the bullpen failed the test.

dark. Next. Is the clock ticking on Wade Davis?

The Royals, who after Monday night’s loss lead the AL Central by one game over Chicago and two over Cleveland, face the Indians again tonight at The K. Game time is 7:10 p.m. CDT, with KC’s Mike Minor (2-1) slated to face Sam Hentges (1-0).