The Royals middle of the order bats Hunter Dozier and Alex Gordon only played a half game each, and the offense still did just enough damage against one of the top pitchers in the American League.
Meanwhile the pitching staff held down one of the most explosive offenses in the majors — 10 games of 10 runs or more — as the Royals bounced back from three consecutive one-run losses.
Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis out-dueled Mike Minor, and Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler both hit crucial home runs as the Royals opened their four-game series with the Rangers with a 4-2 win in front of an announced 26,202 at Globe Life Park on Thursday night. The game featured 28 strikeouts, 16 by Royals hitters and 12 by Rangers.
“We had a bunch of strikeouts, man,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We had four guys who struck out three times, but Soler and Mondi gave us all we needed. Soler ended up hitting a cutter in, and I was hoping it was going to stay fair because he really crushed it. He did a good job of keeping it fair.
“Mondi’s was a change-up that he hit out of the ballpark which was a huge home run at that point too because the score had come back to 3-2. We just needed that little extra breathing room.
Soler’s homer pushed his team-leading total to 14, while Mondesi went 3 for 3 with a pair of runs scored and Ryan O’Hearn had two hits against left-handed pitchers in a game for the first time in his career.
The only bad news of the night came when third baseman Dozier, who leads the Royals in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage, left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning due to right-sided thorax tightness after swinging and missing at a pitch in his second at-bat. He’s day-to-day.
Minor, who spent 2016 and 2017 with the Royals organization, came into the game having ranked among the AL leaders in ERA (fourth, 2.55), opponents slugging percentage (sixth, .349), innings (seventh, 70.2), opponents OPS (ninth, .642) and strikeouts (tied for ninth, 72).
Junis, who struck out seven for the second consecutive start, allowed two runs on four hits (two home runs) and two walks in six innings. He didn’t even get into a rhythm until after the first inning.
Junis (4-5) used the tried-and-true formula of getting ahead in the count and then unleashing the late-breaking slider. Junis struck out five of the first 12 batters he faced.
“Early, I was trying to do too much with it,” Junis said of his slider. “I slowed things down and just let my hand work, and it got pretty sharp there for the rest of the game.”
Shin-Soo Choo’s third-inning solo home run gave the Rangers the early edge. Choo blasted a 0-1 pitch just below the belt and out over the plate to center field for his 10th home run of the season.
Gordon entered the game in the fourth when Dozier left. Gordon went to left and bumped Chris Owings from left field to third base. Both Gordon and Owings made huge defensive plays in the fifth, Gordon on a fly ball that could’ve been extra bases and Owings on a barehanded throw to take away a potential infield single.
While the Royals couldn’t get much going against Minor in the first five innings — they had just four singles — they worked his pitch count to the cusp of 100 pitches through those five innings.
Mondesi started the sixth with a single. Gordon followed with a perfectly-placed infield single on a slow roller between shortstop and third base.
“Mondi got us started with a good at-bat. I fell behind with two strikes,” Gordon said. “Like I’ve done all year, I don’t want to strikeout, you just try to put something in play. With Mondi’s speed, great things can happen. That’s all I was trying to do against a tough lefty.”
Then Soler smashed the first pitch from Minor off the left-field foul pole for a three-run home run that gave the Royals a 3-1 lead. Soler, who has two home runs in as many days, came into the day having been 1 for 6 against Minor in his career. That one previous hit was also a home run.
The next batter, Martin Maldonado, roped a line-drive single up the middle that marked the end of the night for Minor.
Nomar Mazara’s solo home run with one out in the sixth pulled the Rangers within a run, 3-2. Junis got Hunter Pence, the Ranger’s RBI leader, to pop out for the second out of the inning, and Junis froze team home run leader Joey Gallo on a called third strike.
After the Rangers pulled within one, Mondesi responded right away in the top of the seventh and gave the Royals the two-run lead back with a one-out solo home run on the first pitch from Rangers reliever Jeffrey Springs in the seventh inning.
“I’m going up there (looking to) just see the ball and try to get a good pitch to hit, not to be too big,” Mondesi said. “Stay short and just try to get on base.”
The Royals bullpen trio of Wily Peralta (one inning, two strikeouts), Jake Diekman (one inning, one strikeout) and Ian Kennedy (one inning, two strikeouts) held the Rangers scoreless in the final three innings.