Max Castillo has strong debut, but KC Royals get bullied by the Rays in a 7-1 loss

·7 min read

The Kansas City Royals scoring drought is over, and newcomer Max Castillo turned in a strong performance on the mound in his first start for the club. However, not a lot else went right for the Royals as they continue to chase their first win of the road trip.

The Royals lost their fourth in a row, falling 7-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays, in the first game of a four-game set in front of an announced 8,168 at Tropicana Field on Thursday night.

The sides were locked in a one-run nail-biter until the seventh inning when the Rays scored five to take control of the game with Brad Keller on the mound in his first relief appearance since 2018.

The Royals entered the game having not scored a run in 26 consecutive innings going back to the first inning of their series in Minneapolis on Monday. That drought extended into the eighth inning when rookie second baseman Michael Massey hit the first home run of his major-league career.

Castillo, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Whit Merrifield trade earlier this month, struck out three, walked one and allowed one run on three hits in five innings. Two of the hits were bunt singles.

“I’ve felt good these last few weeks in Triple-A, getting my work done,” Castillo said with Royals assistant strength and conditioning coach/Latin American coordinator Luis Perez interpreting. “Thank God that I got the opportunity to come up and play in the best baseball league in the world.”

Diaz’s second pitch in a Royals uniform got smacked 400 feet by Rays leadoff hitter Yandy Diaz for a solo home run, Diaz’s sixth leadoff homer of his career.

Castillo, who had thrown just 50 pitches in his most recent start at Triple-A, made it through five innings on 69 pitches. The lone run he allowed came on the Diaz homer on the first at-bat of the game.

“It’s been a while since passing that limit,” Castillo said. “Going through it today felt good.”

The majority of Castillo’s outings in the majors (7 of 10) had come in a relief role. But the Royals acquired him with intentions of exploring his potential as a starter.

Castillo has shown an effective fastball-changeup combination, but he said his primary focus in the minors had been developing his slider in side sessions as well as in games. Castillo threw the slider 30% of the time on Thursday night.

“I had a lot of trust in myself,” Castillo said. “Just trying to execute pitches, and everything worked out.”

Royals manager Mike Matheny described Castillo’s outing as “really impressive.”

“He had great command of the fastball,” Matheny said. “The slider was better than what I remember it being. We knew the changeup was a plus pitch. The movement, the location that he had with the fastball. He didn’t make really any mistakes in the middle of the plate. Actually the home run was a pretty good pitch, almost a ball off. Then he bared down.”

Rough outing for Keller

After Amir Garrett pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief, Keller’s first relief outing since 2018 got off to a frustrating start.

Keller got the first three hitters he faced to hit the ball on the ground, but two were well-placed and out of the reach of infielders.

The third was fielded by shortstop Nicky Lopez, but Lopez double clutched before he threw when he realized he had no play at second base. His throw to first base was too late to get the runner.

With the bases loaded, Diaz’s high chopper bounced over the leap of Bobby Witt Jr. at third base and into left field for a two-run double.

Then with the infield playing in, Brandon Lowe hit a ball up the middle just past the dive of Lopez and into center field for an RBI single. Randy Arozarena added another RBI single

Keller gave up five runs on six hits (four singles) in 2/3 of an inning.

“With an out and bottom of the order, down a run, we really liked giving Brad an opportunity to come in,” Matheny said. “The ground balls were hit where we weren’t. Then the ones that were hit at somebody. One wasn’t hit hard enough. Good base running on their side. Then one that jumped over the infield.

“His stuff looked good. A couple that got more of the plate than he wanted to, maybe. Wrong side of the plate to a couple guys. The actual life on the ball, the sink, the velocity, those are things that definitely played up.”

Ending the droughts

Massey’s eighth-inning homer assured the Royals wouldn’t threaten the franchise record for longest scoreless streak ⁠— 45 innings in 2017 ⁠— but they did become the first team since the 1981 Blue Jays to have two separate streaks of at least 30 consecutive scoreless innings in the same season.

Massey, who missed his first home run by a few feet earlier this week in Minnesota, admitted he’d gotten a little anxious to get it out of the way. The ball went an estimated 386 feet.

“It felt really good,” Massey said of getting his first homer out of the way. “It’s something I’ve kind of been thinking about for a long time. Some of the guys have kind of been on me a little bit for it.”

Massey acknowledged that it took him a while at almost every level in the minors before he hit his first home run, including approximately 100 at-bats at High-A before he got his first.

“I think it’s more process-related, you’re going up there and you’re trying to put together good at-bats,” Massey said of the recent scoring drought. “Those things happen through the course of 162 games. You’re going to have ups and downs and you’re going to have times when you’re not as clutch as you are. You’re going to have times when runs come easy.

“We were on a stretch there for eight or ten games where we were putting up a bunch of runs. The game just kind of goes in cycles at times. Tonight obviously helped, getting on the board a little bit. Hopefully, we can carry it over into tomorrow.”

Royals relief pitcher Josh Staumont allowed one run on a solo home run by Christian Bethancourt in the eighth inning to close the scoring.

Dozier returns

Royals infielder Hunter Dozier rejoined the team on Thursday in Florida, and the club reinstated him from the paternity list prior to the game.

The trip to Florida capped a hectic five days for Dozier and his wife Amanda, who gave birth to the couple’s third child earlier this week.

Dozier traveled with the team to Minneapolis on Sunday night after the club wrapped its 11-game homestand.

Dozier had already started his game day routine on Monday at Target Field, including some early hitting. After Amanda’s doctor’s appointment that day, Dozier received a phone call around 2:45 p.m. informing him she was headed over to the labor and delivery unit of the hospital.

Dozier left the ballpark, went back to the hotel to get his things, then to the airport where he picked up a car and then drove back to Kansas City. He made it to the hospital by 11:30 p.m. and their third child and second daughter, Briar Laine Dozier, was born around 1:30 a.m.

Dozier left on Thursday morning to meet the team in Florida. He started in right field later that evening.

“This was the most hectic one, for sure, just because we didn’t know exactly,” Dozier said before the game. “We were hoping it would happen when we were at home so I didn’t have to worry about trying to get back to Kansas City. We knew it was going to happen right when I left. Luckily, we were close. We weren’t (in Florida) or something.

“It worked out. I was able to see everything and be there. So it was good.”