Royals start fast but can’t keep pace as Zack Greinke gives up 7 in loss at Arizona

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Zack Greinke gave up multiple runs in three of the first four innings in a highly uncharacteristic start for the Kansas City Royals veteran right-hander who pitched in one of his familiar haunts against one of his former teams.

Greinke gave up a season-high seven runs in a 9-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first game of a two-game interleague set Monday night in front of 14,629 at Chase Field. The Royals have lost five in a row.

The Royals (14-27) smacked 12 hits, including three home runs.

Coming off of a heartbreaking late-inning loss in the final game of the homestand on Sunday, the Royals responded right out of the gate. Whit Merrifield, Bobby Witt Jr. and Hunter Dozier each hit first-inning home runs, including Merrifield on the first pitch of the game.

“We got off to a good start,” Merrifield said. “Didn’t do enough after that to help our pitchers out. Good start though, but didn’t finish well.”

Carlos Santana went 3 for 5. Merrifield (2 for 5, RBI, two runs scored) and Witt (2 for 5, RBI, run scored) also had multi-hit days, while Benintendi was on base three times with a hit and two walks.

The first inning matched MLB records for explosive offense as the clubs combined for five first-inning home runs and tied a major-league record for most home runs in the first inning as well as the most combined home runs in any inning.

Merrifield crushed the first pitch of the game into the left-field stands for the 12th leadoff home run of his career. Witt and Dozier followed with solo blasts of their own, also going into the left-field stands, as both pushed their respective season totals to five homers apiece.

The Royals added a fourth run after MJ Melendez walked, Santana singled, Emmanuel Rivera was hit by a pitch and Kyle Isbel’s fielder’s choice allowed Melendez to score from third.

The Royals, who’ve struggled to score runs this season, put up a five-run inning in their loss on Sunday as well as a four-run first inning on Monday night.

“Obviously, when you can put a crooked number up there, it’s ideal,” Merrifield said. “So I’d like to do that more often. We can have big innings more than once a game. So just try not to get complacent with having one good inning and try to continue put together good at-bats and do it for nine innings.”

Greinke, who pitched for the Diamondbacks from 2016 until he was traded to Houston during the 2019 season, entered the night having allowed three runs or fewer in seven of his eight previous starts this season.

“We couldn’t have had a better top of the first,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Just everything that we’d asked for and then some. Then that’s a spot where we’re really excited about Zack being on the mound because we know he’s going to know how to get a shutdown inning and get us back into the batter’s box. It’s just one of those days where it was tough to find it.”

The Diamondbacks quickly got three runs of their own in the bottom of the first to make it a one-run game on a two-run homer by Pavin Smith and a solo homer by Christian Walker.

Greinke identified the pitch Smith, a fastball left up in the zone, as a mistake. The pitch to Walker, a fastball away and off the plate, was executed the way Greinke wanted.

“The game started off, the ball seemed like it was flying,” Greinke said. “A lot of home runs being hit. Then I had some close pitches called balls and I kinda got scared to throw strikes a little bit, I think is what happened. I mean I really only made one mistake in the zone, that was the home run. Then I walked too many guys.”

Entering the day, Greinke had given up two homers all season. Seeing two homers go out in the first, including one pitch he executed the way he wanted, had an effect on the rest of his outing.

That coupled with borderline pitches not going his way, made the usually-aggressive Greinke more tentative. Three of his four walks also came on 3-2 pitches.

“They did a good job not chasing too many pitches and got some walks, and I probably didn’t attack the zone enough,” Greinke said.

Greinke went just 3 2/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. He gave up seven runs on five hits and four walks. That walk total matched his previous total through eight starts (44 innings).

Greinke also registered a season-high five strikeouts. He moved into a tie with Mickey Lolich for 21st place among MLB’s all-time strikeout leaders.

“My pitches were pretty sharp, I just walked too many,” Greinke said.

D-Backs kept pressure on Greinke, bullpen

Merrifield’s speed accounted for the Royals’ fifth run. Merrifield started the second inning with a leadoff infield single, then stole second base. Because the defense was playing a shift with Andrew Benintendi at the plate, Merrifield alertly noticed that no defender was at third base.

Knowing the defender would have to try to run to the base, make the catch and tag him on the move, Merrifield pressed the issue and made it a race to the bag.

The throw veered off course and into foul territory as Merrifield slid into third. He quickly popped up and made a mad dash for home in time to beat another throw in the dirt to the plate.

However, that was the Royals’ final run. The Diamondbacks kept adding to their total.

The Diamondbacks (22-22) took advantage of two Greinke walks and converted those into two runs in the third inning to tie the score. In the fourth, the Diamondbacks added two more to take their first lead. Greinke put the two runners on base, but both scored after he’d turned the game over to relief pitcher Joel Payamps.

Payamps gave up a two-run double to the first batter he faced — both runs charged to Greinke — then didn’t allow a run for 2 1/3 innings. Collin Snider gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning. Matt Peacock pitched a scoreless 1/3 of an inning against his former team, and Amir Garrett pitched a scoreless frame.