Not even the fresh-faced, rookie-laden Royals could exorcise the long-established demons that come with Minnesota Twins veteran pitcher Sonny Gray. The right-hander shut down the Royals’ offense for six innings and continued his personal run of dominance against KC.
Gray had not lost to the Royals in his previous five starts. He had a 1.41 ERA in those outings, dating to April 16, 2016. And the Royals managed just three hits and no runs and struck out 10 times against him on the way to a 9-0 loss in the second game of a three-game series in front of an announced 23,093 at Target Field on Tuesday night.
The Royals (48-70) were shut out for the 14th time this season and have lost the first two games of their road trip as well as the opening series. They’ll try to avoid being swept in Wednesday afternoon’s finale.
The Royals’ offense has scored just two runs in the past two games, both coming in the first inning on Monday night. They’ll enter Wednesday having not scored a run in 17 consecutive innings.
“I think it’s just keep playing. Take it day in and day out,” Royals rookie infielder Bobby Witt Jr. said of the recent scoring struggles. “Tomorrow is a new day, and we’re going to keep grinding at-bats. We’ve been putting together good at-bats. It just doesn’t go your way sometimes. That’s why if you’re 3 for 10 you’re a Hall of Famer. So you’ve got to deal with the times you’re not getting the hits.”
Witt (1 for 3) had the only hit against Gray through the first six innings. Salvador Perez (1 for 4), Vinnie Pasquantino (2 for 3, walk) and Nicky Lopez (1 for 3) had the only other hits for KC.
Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke allowed three runs (just one earned run), on nine hits including one home run in six innings. He didn’t walk a batter, and he struck out five.
The Twins grabbed a 2-0 lead on a pair of unearned runs in the second inning following a fielding error by Witt at third base. With a runner on and one out, Gilberto Celestino hit a bouncer to Witt, but he couldn’t field the in between hop cleanly and no out was recorded.
“(Gray) just was making good pitches,” Witt said. “He was all over the corners to everyone. He just pitched well. Zack threw well too, I believe. I made a mistake for him on the defensive side. I wish I could have that back. But that’s part of it. You live and you learn. But Gray had some good stuff.”
Witt, who made his debut on opening day, has now committed 18 errors this season (three at third base, 15 at shortstop).
“I’m just trying to get better each and every day,” Witt said. “At these times right now, I’ve been scuffling a little bit out there, but I’ve gotta keep going out there. It’s a new day tomorrow. Go back at it, keep putting the work in and have my pitchers’ backs as much as I can.”
The lead runner Gio Urshela advanced from second to third and then scored on a sacrifice bunt by Sandy Leon.
Then with two outs, Luis Arraez hit an RBI single to center field that scored Celestino. Arraez entered the day leading the American League with a .332 batting average.
“I made a lot of good pitches that innining, then they made the safety squeeze thing,” Greinke said. “Looking back, I think I made the right choice going to first. At the time, I thought maybe there’s a play at home.
“But I’ve seen that play like 20, 30 times and half the time the pitcher tries to get the out at home and he ends up being safe. Then there’s a bunch of guys on and no one’s out. The next guy is a tough guy to get out. I made a really good changeup pitch, and he got a base hit up the middle.”
Meanwhile, Gray held the Royals without a hit until the fourth inning. Gray struck out six in the first three innings, including four called third strikes.
The Twins added a run in the fourth on a two-out solo home run by Celestino on an 0-1 curveball from Greinke (4-8).
“Their team was swinging good,” Greinke said. “I made a lot of good pitches and they just were hitting balls hard all day long. It was a tough day pitching.”
Similar to Monday night, the Royals had a chance to take a chunk out of their deficit late. But Twins left-hander Caleb Thielbar shut down the Royals in another high-leverage situation.
Perez and Pasquantino started off the seventh with back-to-back singles to chase Gray from the game.
“You saw a lot of those awkward takes,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Gray. “Guys were complaining about pitches that we ended up looking at and were in the strike zone. Not a lot unlike what we’re seeing with Brady (Singer), that kind of movement from side to side.
“He was starting it at the lefties. They’re jumping out the way and the ball clips the corner of the zone. The same thing with the righties. Then he mixed up the four-seamer that stayed straight on the other side of the plate. He had the slow curveball going. He located everything well today. We thought the umpire was being a little liberal with the strike zone, but they were strikes.”
Thielbar, who has held lefty batters to a batting average of .173 and a slugging percentage of .250, got left-handed hitting Michael Massey to hit into a fielder’s choice that left runners on the corners with one out. Thielbar then struck out Michael A. Taylor, swinging, and Thilebar got a called third strike on a full count to strikeout left-handed hitting Nick Pratto to end the inning.
“We’re right there, still in that game with opportunity again and miss it,” Matheny said. “You can’t let those go. We’ve got to make a mark. Unfortunately, those are catching up with us.
“We keep talking about the kind of team that we are. We’ve got to figure out how to grind and fight and just take those gritty at-bats to where we put something in play to put pressure on the defense to where we can put something across the board. A couple guys took good at-bats, but when we needed the big hit, we couldn’t get it.”
The Twins (60-55) added three more runs to their lead in the bottom half of the seventh against reliever Wyatt Mills and put themselves comfortably in front. Their final three runs came against reliever Luke Weaver (1 1/3 innings, three runs, no earned runs).