KANSAS CITY — Following a rain delay of two hours and five minutes on Monday night, Royals starter Daniel Lynch cruised through the first three innings, needing just 38 pitches to navigate his way through the Blue Jays’ right-handed heavy and juggernaut offense the first time.
What happened the next three innings spiraled out of control for Lynch and the Royals, as they dropped the series opener, 8-0, at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City has now lost 14 of its last 17 games since May 19, falling to a Major League-worst 17-36 with Tuesday night marking the one-third point of the season.
A leadoff walk to George Springer in the fourth inning quickly turned into a run when Lynch left a changeup up to Bo Bichette, who crushed it to right-center field for a two-run blast and a lead the Blue Jays wouldn’t relinquish.
Lynch got out of the inning without any more damage, but he threw 24 pitches. In the fifth, Matt Chapman hit a slider 99 mph for a double, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. roped a single 105.8 mph to set up a sacrifice fly.
Still, Lynch was at 84 pitches through five innings, with three runs on three hits.
“I felt like I was attacking well,” Lynch said. “I was commanding my slider, my changeup really well. Using my fastball effectively. And just having confidence in my stuff.”
Facing the Blue Jays for a third time through the order in the sixth, Lynch struck out Bichette before throwing a first-pitch slider to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto’s first baseman hammered it to right-center field for a solo shot, and three batters later with a runner on first base, Santiago Espinal lifted his fifth home run of the season to the visiting bullpen.
The slider and changeup hit for homers were pitches up in the zone that Toronto hunted.
“Going into that inning, he had good stuff today,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “I know that’s not what anybody wants to hear when you give up runs like that. To be able to take a team like that and only give up three hits in those first five, you’re doing something right.
“Unfortunately, when he did make mistakes, they jumped all over him. Slider up and away, changeup up and away homers. But overall, better executed stuff than he had the last time.”
In a span of 2 2/3 innings, Lynch allowed six runs on six hits, seeing his current slide continue.
After posting a 3.30 ERA (11 earned in 30 innings) through his first 6 starts and being a bright spot in the Royals’ rotation to start the season, the 25-year-old lefty has now allowed 18 runs in his past 18 2/3 innings dating to his May 20 start against Minnesota — during which he dealt with a back injury but felt healthy after the outing.
“I really am trying to focus on getting to a point where I can go out there every single time and give us quality starts, and give us really good starts,” Lynch said. “I know I’m capable of that. It’s just going to take a little bit of looking into what’s going on and moving forward, and hopefully giving the team the best chance to win.”
The Royals expected ups and downs to their young starting rotation this year, and this stretch for Lynch qualifies as one of the valleys. But coupled with the offense’s struggles against Blue Jays starter Ross Stripling, those growing pains have led to losses piling up and the Royals struggling to work out of the hole they’ve started the season in.
Kansas City managed just two hits against Stripling and four Toronto relievers. Both hits came via Michael A. Taylor, who also walked as the Royals’ only baserunner. Stripling kept Kansas City on its heels, working ahead in the count and keeping hitters off balance with his changeup.
“The approach is to find something you can hit hard,” Matheny said. “He made pretty good pitches. His changeup was very good today, we know that’s a wipeout pitch for him. He’s got the highest release point in the league, it’s a different angle, and you could see the downhill plane. He was working ahead in counts. It was just a different look than what we’ve seen.
“Tried to prepare before the game, but it’s different once you get out there. It seemed like he just had something that we weren’t picking up.”
By the time Monday’s game wrapped up, it was already Tuesday morning — and the Royals were looking ahead.
“It being 12:30 a.m. helps,” Taylor said. “We’ll just go home, go to bed and come back and do it again tomorrow.”