Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny has seen his team struggle in the first inning frequently this season, and it occurred again Friday in the opener of a three-game series against the visiting Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota scored three runs in the first, but the Royals bounced back for a 7-4 win, ending a nine-game skid.
The teams meet again Saturday in the middle game of the series.
The Friday defeat continued a frustrating season for Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, whose club lost a game in which they led for the 29th time. Minnesota has dropped four in a row overall.
“We’ve done a good job of coming out early and putting some runs on the board,” Baldelli said. “It’s a good way to start a ballgame that usually leads to positive things, but we haven’t been able to sustain that.”
After Kansas City’s Friday starter, Brady Singer, lasted just three innings, the Royals extended their string to 11 straight games without a quality start.
The Royals will send left-hander Danny Duffy (4-3, 2.44 ERA) to the mound Saturday. The Twins will give a first career start to right-hander Griffin Jax (1-0, 7.82).
The Royals are depending heavily on a youthful pitching staff. After Mike Minor (age 33) and Duffy (32), the regular starting pitchers are all 25 or younger. Brad Keller (25, but in his fourth year with the club), Singer (24, second year) and Kris Bubic (23, second year) all qualify as “young.”
Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch, who were selected along with Singer and Bubic in the 2018 draft, are both 24. They’re both back in the minors after struggling in the first inning of outings.
Keller is the most puzzling, as he owns a career 4.08 ERA and has a 10.59 ERA in the first inning this year (20 earned runs in 17 starts). His opponents’ batting average in the first inning is .429 and the opponents’ OPS is 1.100.
Matheny is flummoxed regarding a possible solution.
“We’ve tried having someone else throw that first inning,” the manager said before Friday’s series opener. “There’s still going to be a first (inning) for them when they come in.
“We’re always trying to think outside the box, trying to help them prepare.”
Duffy has been stellar this year, when he’s been healthy. He is working on building up his pitch count after spending 42 days on the injured list due to a left forearm flexor strain.
Duffy will face the Twins for the second time this year. On May 1 in Minneapolis, he allowed one run on two hits in seven innings en route to an 11-3 win. He issued three walks while striking out seven.
The veteran lefty is 9-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 27 career outings (23 starts) vs. Minnesota, his lowest ERA against any American League Central opponent. He has won each of his past three decisions vs. the Twins.
Jax, 26, earned his first major league win in his most recent outing. He gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings as the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 on June 25.
That outing was the longest of Jax’s four major league appearances, all of which occurred last month. He will oppose the Royals for the first time.
–Field Level Media