Keller and Kansas City Royals fall behind early, fail to rally in 9-2 loss to Twins

·6 min read

For the first time all season, walks came back to haunt workhorse Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller.

He hadn’t allowed an opponent to turn a walk into a run all season, but half of the runs he allowed on Saturday night reached base via walks. Then the Minnesota Twins kept tacking on runs against the Royals’ bullpen.

With an offense struggling to consistently produce, there’s a small margin for error for a starting pitcher. Keller, who has a 3.20 ERA, gave up four earned runs for just the second time this season (in eight starts), but four turned out to be a big enough number on a night when the Royals went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

The Royals’ bullpen gave up five runs in the final two innings on top of the four Keller surrendered on the way to a 9-2 loss to the Twins in front of an announced 17,893 in the second game of the three-game series at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals (14-25) have now lost three games in a row and fell a season-high 11 games below .500.

The teams will conclude their series, and the Royals wrap-up their homestand, on Sunday afternoon. The Royals will try to avoid being swept in the three-game set.

“He knows who he needs to be and he made really good pitches all evening long,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Keller. “He threw good enough to give us a chance to win too, but unfortunately they got a couple two-out hits — what we talk about and we’re always looking for ⁠— and we did have one opportunity in the sixth to make something happen. We couldn’t get our big hit. But he pitched good enough to win.”

Royals rookie third baseman Emmanuel Rivera hit his third home run in the past seven games, while Andrew Benintendi went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and an RBI.

Whit Merrifield (1 for 4, run scored) and Kyle Isbel (1 for 4) also smacked doubles for the Royals (14-25).

The Royals have now homered in a season-high five consecutive games, and they’ve batted .288 during that stretch. However, they’re just 6 for 36 (.167) with runners in scoring position during that span.

Keller (1-4) gave up four runs on five hits and three walks in seven innings, his fourth start of seven innings this season. He also struck out four and uncorked one wild pitch.

Keller has received an MLB-low average of 1.42 runs per outing. When he exited Saturday’s game, the Royals had scored two, and the second run came in the bottom of the seventh.

Keller relied heavily on his sinker (38 percent of his pitches) and slider (also 38 percent of his pitches), but he pulled out a pair of four-seam fastballs to get called third strikes in the seventh inning.

“Going into the game, we knew we needed to try to keep this team on the ground,” Keller said. “We knew they were fast. We knew they had a lot of power. We went to the sinker early and often. To be able to pull out a four-seam and locate it in the later innings was big for me.”

In the third inning, the Twins (24-16) took a leadoff walk by Gio Urshela followed by a Ryan Jeffers bloop single that dropped into center field and turned that into two runs.

A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, and Byron Buxton’s sacrifice fly scored Urshela for the game’s first run and allowed Jeffers to advance to third base. Luis Arraez’s single then drove in Jeffers.

The Royals got a run back in the third thanks to a Merrifield double to left field and Benintendi’s RBI single lined to center.

But the Twins made Keller pay for a leadoff walk again in the sixth when a two-out RBI single by Max Kepler pushed Minnesota’s lead back to two runs, 3-1. Then Gary Sanchez lined an RBI double to the left-center field wall to make it a three-run deficit for the Royals, 4-2.

“Walks hurt me there, especially leadoff walks,” Keller said. “Two of them came around to score. I think I had three of them. Two of them came around to score which put unnecessary pressure on myself, which sucks. I think anytime that happens, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to come back and bite you. So that’s what happened tonight.”

Rivera continues to make hard contact

The Royals loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, but they weren’t able to take advantage. A fly ball by Isbel ended that threat.

The Royals got as close as two runs, 4-2, in the seventh on Rivera’s solo homer. He hit an 0-1 fastball from Twin left-handed reliever Caleb Thielbar 418 feet to center field.

“I feel really good at the plate, recognizing pitches and I continue to work every day,” Rivera said in Spanish with Royals assistant strength and conditioning coach Luis Perez interpreting.

In his last seven games, Rivera has gone 8 for 25 (.320) with three home runs, six extra-base hits, six RBIs and seven runs scored. He’s now hit home runs in back-to-back games.

Rivera made his major-league debut last season, but he played in just two games before a hamate bone fracture interrupted his season and forced him to miss more than a month.

The experience of being in the majors for 29 total games last season, plus his recent run of success, has only bolstered his confidence at the plate.

“I definitely feel like I’ve gained trust in my at-bats,” Rivera said. “Every hitter does when you’re connecting with the ball like that.”

Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan (5-2) held the Royals to one run on five hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. Ryan struck out six.

Royals relievers Gabe Speier (one inning, one earned run) and Foster Griffin (one inning, four earned runs) gave up the final five runs to the Twins.

Royals right-hander Brady Singer (1-0, 2.84) is expected to start on Sunday. A roster move will have to be made prior to the game to add him to the major-league roster. He was optioned back to the minors following his latest start on Tuesday.

The Twins list right-hander Bailey Ober (1-1, 2.75) as their starter on Sunday.

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