KANSAS CITY — The Royals needed a quality start from Brad Keller on Tuesday night in an effort to stop their skid and gain some much-needed momentum, and Keller delivered for six-plus innings against the Blue Jays’ stacked lineup.
But in an all-too-familiar scene, Kansas City’s bullpen couldn’t keep the game close, the offense was blanked for a second straight game in the series and the Royals were left searching for the same answers in yet another 7-0 loss at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals have now lost 15 of their last 18, falling to a Major League-low 17-37 through the one-third point of the season, which matches their second-worst record through the first 54 games of a season — they went 14-40 in 2006.
“It’s just finding a way,” Keller said. “It’s a long season. We’ve still got tons of games left. We’re going through a rough patch right now. It happens to everybody in every season, and whether it’s a long rough patch or short one is up to us.
“It’s like with anything, keep grinding and keep going. Head down and keep working. I don’t think you can say anything about anyone’s work ethic here. Everyone works really hard at their craft, and it’s just a matter of us putting it together on the field.”
Keller has been dominant in five starts at Kauffman Stadium this season with a 2.43 ERA — a stark contrast to his 6.26 ERA on the road — and Tuesday was no exception. His only blemish came on Matt Chapman’s two-run double in the second inning; otherwise, Keller navigated around traffic on the bases by relying on his defense with three double plays.
“He looked a lot more the first [starts] we saw, how confident he was, the rhythm and the trust in the sink,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It was fastball command, and he just pounded. You can see the early swings, ground balls, getting himself out of trouble with the double plays. That’s just the result of the heavy, late movement.”
Keller, 26, has fared much better in 2022 than last season and he is turning himself into a starter contending teams will likely be asking about at the Trade Deadline this summer, knowing he has a year of control left after this season.
After two rough starts on the road, Keller found a rhythm to his delivery against the Blue Jays that he showcased early this year, which allowed him to command both his cut fastball and sinker on both sides of the plate.
“I feel like whenever I get in trouble, I start short-arming the ball, essentially, and that tends to be where my command suffers a little bit,” Keller said. “Today, I felt really good as far as driving down toward the plate, with good extension. And I had a lot better command.”
That turned into his team-leading sixth quality start of the year — and seventh loss. When Keller exited the seventh after back-to-back singles, Collin Snider entered and almost worked his way out of it with a double play for the first two outs. A double and two walks later, Dylan Coleman entered with the bases loaded. He walked in a run, saw another score on a wild pitch, and suddenly a two-run deficit for the Royals turned into five runs.
“Brad got in a bind in the seventh, and we got to help him out there,” Matheny said.
The lead seemed insurmountable with the way Kansas City has fared against Toronto’s pitching in this three-game series. Right-hander Alek Manoah lowered his ERA to 1.81 with six scoreless innings, and the Royals were blanked for the eighth time this season, which leads the Majors. It’s the first time they’ve been shutout in back-to-back games since May 6-7 of last year.
Keller fell to 1-7 after receiving no runs of support for the fifth time this season, while he’s received two runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts. The Royals have provided him just 12 runs in 66 2/3 innings this year, for a Majors-low 1.62 run support average.
“It’s tough, for sure,” outfielder Kyle Isbel said. “If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best. I thought our approach and everything was fine, just a lot of balls hit right at people. I feel like that’s been the moral of the story the past few games. It’s going to start falling our way.”