KC Royals: Pen ruins Jonathan Heasley’s big night

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Just a week ago, KC Royals starter Jonathan Heasley pitched one of the worst games of his short major league career. Detroit, a team better than only Oakland in the American League, shelled him for seven runs on seven hits in four innings; only the seven runs and nine hits he allowed Texas over 3.2 late June innings was worse.

Heasley’s first chance to atone came Friday night at Boston’s Fenway Park, as dangerous a place as any for pitchers, especially one like Heasley who’s fighting to maintain his spot in a big league rotation.

The second-year righthander, still considered a rookie because he pitched only three times in his debut season last year, didn’t waste the opportunity. Excellent from the beginning, he shut out the Red Sox for 6.2 innings, gave them only two hits, and struck out five. And thanks to an inning-ending double play in the first and three straight three-up, three-down innings, he faced only the minimum through four frames.

He worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth, then retired Boston’s next five batters before walking J.D. Martinez with two away in the seventh.

That’s when KC manager Mike Matheny decided Heasley was done and, with the Royals leading 1-0, never a safe margin for any team at Fenway, went to his team’s unpredictable bullpen.

It failed the club, Matheny, and Heasley.

Two relievers couldn’t save this one for Jonathan Heasley and the KC Royals.

Amir Garrett, called upon by Matheny to shut the door on Boston in the seventh, didn’t disappoint. He walked Triston Casas but struck out Christian Arroyo. But sticking to his propensity to pitch his relievers in only one inning each time out, Matheny turned from Garrett to Dylan Coleman for the eighth.

That’s when the trouble began. Forced to observe things from the dugout after his stellar performance, Heasley watched Coleman issue a leadoff walk to Kiké Hernández, then another to pinch hitter and former Royal Abraham Almonte. And although Coleman extracted a weak popup from Tommy Pham, Matheny decided to make another change and brought in closer Scott Barlow to protect that fragile 1-0 lead.

Barlow, though, issued the third walk of the inning to Rafael Devers and, after striking out Xander Bogaerts, the fourth of the frame to Alex Verdugo. That brought Hernández home to tie the game.

J.D. Martinez’s single to left scored Almonte with the lead, and eventual winning, run. Barlow fanned Casas to end the inning, the Royals couldn’t score in the ninth, and Boston won the opener of this three-game series 2-1.

Unfortunately, the bullpen ruined Heasley’s night, at least from a win-loss standpoint. He pitched well enough to win his fourth game of the year and third in his last four starts (including Friday’s).

Not to be forgotten, though, is just how outstanding he was. Combined with his victories over San Diego Aug. 28 and Detroit Sept. 3, a good 4.2 inning scoreless start against Arizona Aug. 23, and a well-pitched loss to the White Sox Aug. 9 (he gave Chicago only two runs and struck out five in 5.1 innings) Heasley shows signs of rounding into the pitcher the Royals thought he could be when they made him part of their vaunted 2018 draft class.

The loss marked Kansas City’s fourth straight and eighth in their last 10 games. The club is 4-10 for September, 57-88 overall, and must win six of its last 17 to avoid a 100-loss season.

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The Royals and Red Sox play the second game of their series beginning at 3:10 p.m. CDT Saturday.