Royals ride early offense, another strong Junis start to fourth win in five games

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Lynn Worthy
·6 min read
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For a guy who wasn’t sure if he’d be a reliever or a starter this season, Jakob Junis certainly seems to have given the Kansas City Royals an improved sense of stability in their starting rotation.

For the second consecutive start, Junis appeared steady, precise and operated with an almost machine-like efficiency up until his final couple of batters.

One start after he tossed five scoreless innings in Cleveland, Junis pitched into the sixth and set the Royals up for their fourth win in five games.

The Royals jumped out to an early lead on the Toronto Blue Jays before letting their foot off the gas temporarily on the way to a 7-5 win in front of an announced 6,266 on Jackie Robinson Day at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday night.

“Great win, Jake was fantastic again,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “That was a great carryover from his last start. Then the offense gave him some breathing room.”

Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler and Hanser Alberto had two hits each, while Andrew Benintendi doubled and collected a RBI and Nicky Lopez tripled, walked, scored twice and drove in a run.

The Royals (7-4) have now won three in a row for the first time this season, and they’ve gotten three consecutive strong outings from starting pitchers Danny Duffy, Brad Keller and Junis.

“I’m liking where our starting pitching is beginning to go,” Matheny said. “... We’re just at that point where we can keep pushing Jake a little bit further. He went out last game expecting it to be a pretty short outing. Next thing you know, he’s standing out there through five. This one, we were just trying to get him kind of a little more acclimated, push that count a little bit higher.”

Junis allowed two runs on five hits and one walk. He struck out six and started off the season with 12 consecutive scoreless innings. After making his first two appearances of the season out of the bullpen, Junis pitched five scoreless for the second consecutive start.

“Attacking the zone, throwing my cutter, throwing my slider, getting through five scoreless and having some good shutdown innings in there,” Junis said of the outing. “Offense was great tonight. So to go out there and throw up a zero after they put up some runs, that’s what it’s all about.”

In his first start, Junis needed just 58 pitches to cruise through five innings.

On Thursday, he threw 74 pitches through five innings. However, this time he pitched into the sixth inning. He gave up a walk and a single before he exited without having recorded an out in the sixth.

Jake Newberry took over with runners on the corners. Newberry gave up a one-out double to Joe Panik on a line drive into the right-center-field gap that scored both runs charged to Junis. Newberry gave up one more run before giving way to reliever Kyle Zimmer with one out in the sixth.

The Royals built up a 7-0 cushion before the Blue Jays chased Junis and made hay against Newberry in the sixth.

The Royals scored their seven runs in the first four innings, including a four-run fourth that featured doubles by Soler, Dozier and Alberto. Soler’s double marked the 100th of his MLB career.

Alberto stepped into the lineup late in the afternoon after the Blue Jays announced left-hander Anthony Kay as their starting pitcher.

The Royals initially had left-handed rookie outfielder Kyle Isbel slated for the starting lineup, but they shifted Dozier to right field and inserted Alberto into the lineup at third base.

“I’m ready everyday,” Alberto said. “I come to the ballpark and prepare myself like I’m going to play everyday because I don’t know when they’re going to need me. They told me later in the day that I was going to be in the lineup, so it wasn’t a surprise for me. I was ready, so just go out there and have fun and enjoy with the guys.”

The Blue Jays pulled within two runs, 7-5, after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. blasted a 456-foot solo home run to center field off Zimmer in the seventh inning.

Scott Barlow pitched the eighth and ninth for his first save of the season. He became the fifth Royals reliever to record a save in the club’s first seven wins. He joined Zimmer, Jesse Hahn, Greg Holland and Wade Davis in that category.

“You never know who is going to go,” Barlow said of being part of the bullpen. “Every phone ring gets the heart going a little bit. Everybody in the bullpen has been able to step up and pitch in any inning. …

“The camaraderie down there is really good. We’re all talking about each hitter throughout the game, just kind of watching, paying attention. The guys down there are awesome, so it has been fun.”

Robinson remembered

MLB celebrated the anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947, as the first Black player in the majors.

This past year, MLB has made public shows of support for social justice causes and held on-field gestures of solidarity amid times of heightened social unrest. Recently, MLB moved this year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta, Georgia, over concerns about recent voting legislation viewed by many as restrictive to minorities.

“I think whenever we’re made aware of, or it continues to become topics of conversation, you research, dive in and try to learn more about it. I think all of baseball has done that over the last year,” Matheny said. “ We continue to try and learn and try, but also try and improve and try and figure out how to do our part to right wrongs.”

MLB retired Robinson’s number throughout the majors in 1997 and dedicated April 15th as Jackie Robinson Day in 2004. MLB has asked all on-field personnel to wear his jersey No. 42 during games scheduled on Jackie Robinson Day since 2009.

“To me, he’s one of the great heroes of our sport,” Matheny said. “I quote him often. I’m a huge fan of the courage it took for him to break that barrier. I have some people who I would consider close friends who followed not long after, and some of the things they went through were just mind-boggling and things that people still go through are mind-boggling.

“Hopefully, we can all use whatever platform we have to do our part to create change. I think Major League Baseball is trying to be proactive as possible and is trying to have as strong a voice as possible to help that change.”