Junis sets up Royals’ shutout win over Indians

CLEVELAND — Royals right-hander Jakob Junis threw six scoreless innings to continue his recent hot streak, and the bullpen hung on for three innings in a 1-0 shutout win over the Indians on Saturday night at Progressive Field.

It was the Royals’ first 1-0 win since June 22, 2018, when Danny Duffy and three relievers combined to beat the Astros in Houston.

Ian Kennedy worked a 1-2-3 ninth this time for his 17th save to help the surging Royals go 7-2 since the All-Star break.

The play

With the Royals leading 1-0, speedy Indians All-Star Francisco Lindor powered a high drive toward right-center at 101 mph, according to Statcast. Center fielder Billy Hamilton tracked it, then jumped with one foot against the fence and …

Well, no one but Hamilton knew right away if he caught it. Hamilton floated back to earth, then he took off running toward left field as everyone in the ballpark, including the umpires, waited to see if he had the ball.

Hamilton did. The ball had an xBA (expected batting average) of .530.

“I was thinking about making everyone think I missed it,” Hamilton said, grinning. “But Juni was throwing so well, I didn’t want to be messing around with him too much.

“It was one of those tough times at night, twilight, and I actually took my eye off it a little, but I got it back. I just wanted, with no one on base, I was trying to keep guys off base. … .I think it’s worth it to take a chance there.”

Junis certainly was relieved to see Hamilton finally show the ball.

“I thought it might have been a home run, or at least extra bases. It was huge in that part of the game,” Junis said. “I thought he caught it, and I imagined he did, but then I saw him start running into left field and he wasn’t too urgent [about showing the ball]. I thought he caught it. Glad he did. Huge play.”

The pitch

Junis wasn’t out of danger in that sixth. With two out, he walked Carlos Santana and then Junis gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis.

But then, Junis went to his out pitch, a backdoor slider on 2-2 for strike three.

“It was one of those that just kind of popped out and luckily it had just enough spin to catch the outside corner and freeze him,” Junis said. “That was huge to get out of that inning.”

That was the end of Junis’ night in which he threw 48 sliders (pitch-tracking sometimes confuse his slider with a curve, incidentally) of his 94 pitches. He gave up just two hits and struck out seven.

“Breaking ball,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Junis’ dominance. “He led off most hitters with a breaking ball strike. He really slowed our bats down. It seemed like he could go to it whenever he wanted to. He’d elevate a fastball kinda for effect and then go right back to it, and kinda gave us fits.”

Junis now has a 1.35 ERA over his last three starts with 23 strikeouts.

“This is about as good as I’ve felt in a while,” Junis said. “Was good going into the break, and coming out of the break it’s been good. And we’re playing some good ball right now like we know we can.”

The swing

The only offense on the night came early. In the first inning, Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier jumped on a 2-1 four-seam fastball from Indians righty Adam Plutko and Dozier powered it just into the right-field seats at 97 mph for his 15th home run.

“Just a ball out over the plate,” Dozier said. “I was really just trying to get a good pitch to hit. I put a good swing on it. I thought it had a chance. I put a pretty good swing on it, barreled it and kinda got under it, but I knew the wind was blowing out a little bit. When I hit it, I thought it had a pretty good chance.”

Royals manager Ned Yost had no idea that would be the only run from both sides.

“He powered it out, big strong guy,” Yost said. “He only got it in the second or third row out. You’re hoping at that point, first inning, that you’re going to score some runs. You didn’t know that would eventually be the winner, but I’m glad it was.”