Keller (7 K’s) helps cool off red-hot Rays

The Royals knew they would need to play their best baseball against a red-hot Rays team, which brought an 11-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s series opener at Tropicana Field.

So right-hander Brad Keller threw his best start of the season and looked like every bit the ace Kansas City needs in a 2-1 win.

Keller kept the Rays’ bats quiet over seven strong innings, with four hits — three of them infield singles — and four walks. His seven strikeouts tied a season high, and it was his deepest start of the season after Keller struggled mightily to start the year as the Opening Day starter. Tampa Bay’s only run against Keller came in the third, when Brett Phillips reached on an infield single back to Keller, stole second and took third on a groundout before scoring on Yandi Díaz’s single.

But Keller looked like the pitcher that the Royals know and trust, garnering weak contact with his sinker and flashing the biting slider that kept the Rays off balance. He was helped by two stellar catches at second base, one by Whit Merrifield in the fifth and one by Nicky Lopez in the seventh as a defensive replacement.

The Royals’ offense gave Keller the run support he needed, with Carlos Santana’s 10th homer of the season and 250th of his career in the fourth off lefty Rich Hill, who also was strong in eight innings. Salvador Perez had the go-ahead RBI single in the sixth. Adalberto Mondesi went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles in his 2021 debut.