World champion Royals hang on over A’s

Despite the base paths being littered with royal blue all night, the Oakland Athletics did enough to keep it close.

Even with 11 runners left on base, the Kansas City Royals (8-2) snatched a 4-2 victory Friday night, taking the first of three. A’s starter Rich Hill was unable to get through the fifth, seeing his pitch count sky-rocket early, while Edinson Volquez worked out of several jams of his own in earning the win.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Oakland starters have now failed to last through the sixth inning in six of the team’s first 11 games. Hill addressed the issue following the game:

“Again, we had to go to the bullpen in the fifth inning. I just didn’t do my job tonight… To not get through five, and put the bullpen in the position I put them in, is not something that is acceptable.”

It was an ominous start for Hill (L, 1-2, 4.15 ERA), who walked shortstop Alcides Escobar to start the game. The Kansas City offense collected two hits while drawing two walks in the first, but the A’s (4-7) starter held them to a modest two runs, using a double-play grounder to second baseman Jed Lowrie off the bat of Royals clean-up man Eric Hosmer.

Hill threw the ball just well enough to keep the reigning champs from blowing the game open. But a single run, coming off an RBI single from designated hitter Kendrys Morales (7) — No. 500 for his career — gave the Royals the winning tally.

Like the Oakland lefty, Volquez (W, 2-0, 2.04 ERA) experienced control issues. Using higher velocity against aggressive A’s hitters, though, he was able to limit scoring chances.

The runs Oakland did score, however, were cause for excitement. Stephen Vogt pulverized a 2-2 curveball to lead off the second inning. Offering his best Josh Gibson impression on Jackie Robinson Day, Vogt logged his first homer of the season, sending the Coliseum crowd into a frenzy.

Said Vogt:

“It feels good. You want to get rid of all your zeros right away, throw out the stats as quick as you can, and just go play. (Hitting coach) Darren Bush has talked to me about slowing down at the plate, and seeing the ball a little better. So, hopefully, I can continue to do that.”

Vogt scored another run after leading off the fourth inning with a single, when scuffling slugger Khris Davis grounded a single just out of the reach of Escobar and into center field. It was Davis’ first RBI of the season, and came two innings after he was able to work a walk.

Manager Bob Melvin found the performance inspiring, but the left fielder said this is no time to rest on his laurels:

“I felt a little better, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do and that’s what I’m going to do — keep working. The moment you think you’ve got it figured out the next AB is going to humble you real quick.”

Also inspiring was the work from middle-relief duo Fernando Rodriguez and Ryan Dull, who worked a combined 2-2/3 scoreless.

With his perfect 1 1/3, Dull has now gone 7 1/3 innings this season without allowing a hit or walk .

The Royals’ final hit, No. 12 — to go along with five base on balls —  came on Hosmer’s first homer of the season, off struggling Athletics closer Sean Doolittle.

Melvin used an off day to move up ace Sonny Gray (1-1, 2.70 ERA) in the rotation. Gray will take the hill Saturday, facing Kansas City’s Chris Young (0-2, 7.45 ERA). Even in a loss, the skipper said he feels good about his offense’s work heading into the afternoon tilt.

“Overall, we made the starter work more. …We just didn’t get some big hits. One or two more hits in (run-scoring) situations and now we’ve got a different ballgame.”


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.