- PETERSBURG — Right-hander Jakob Junis could use a strong finish to the season. It wouldn’t hurt the Royals either, as both begin to look ahead to 2019.
And Junis is showing more signs he is over a midseason slump. Junis allowed two earned runs or fewer for the fourth consecutive start during Kansas City’s 6-3 loss to the Rays on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.
“It’s not encouraging, [because] I’ve got a good feeling about Jake, so I don’t need to be encouraged,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, of Junis’ recent starts. “This is what I expect out of Jake. I expect him to go out and make starts like this. I expect him to execute pitches and have a good slider and keep us in the game, just like he did tonight.”
Junis, though, seemed upbeat about his turnaround.
“It’s been encouraging to have some consistent starts in a row,” Junis said. “I was slumping pretty hard, so to bounce back and have some strong ones since the All-Star break, it’s encouraging to finish this season strong.”
Kansas City, now 38-89, can be eliminated from postseason contention with one more loss, or one more Indians win.
Junis was nicked for two runs in the second when the Rays pieced together three consecutive hits, the last of which was a two-run single by Brandon Lowe on a slider, Junis’ best pitch.
Junis allowed two unearned runs in the sixth. He left after 5 2/3 innings, scattering nine hits while walking none and striking out five.
“It was all right,” Junis said. “Gave up quite a few hits but didn’t walk anybody. Threw strikes, attacked guys, followed the game plan, just fell a little short.”
Trailing 2-0 in the fourth, Whit Merrifield got the Royals’ first hit and became the first baserunner when he lofted a high drive down the left-field line that clanked off the foul pole for his ninth home run. The towering knock extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Hunter Dozier made a game of it in the eighth when he belted a 2-2 fastball from Yonny Chirinos for a two-run home run, his sixth — it came on his 27th birthday.
“Honestly, I’m ready for the fastball [in that situation], but I’m thinking the other way [breaking ball], so I’m just battling,” Dozier said. “My two previous at-bats didn’t turn out too well, so I’m thinking I just need to hit it hard somewhere and get something going.”
Rookie Ryan O’Hearn, who homered Tuesday, had two more hits, including a double.
“With O’Hearn, we talked about it earlier, he was hitting .190 but his at-bats were good,” Yost said. “I feel good about those at-bats. ]He’s] doing a nice job.”