MINNEAPOLIS — Royals right-hander Brad Keller continued his recent resurgence on Sunday at Target Field. Yet it still wasn’t enough in a 3-0 loss to the Twins, the Royals’ sixth straight defeat.
Keller, Kansas City’s pitcher of the month for July when he posted a 2.12 ERA in five starts, gave up just five hits and two runs over seven innings while striking out seven. Keller’s four-seamer once again was hitting 97-98 mph, a positive sign for a Royals team searching for answers heading into 2020.
“I felt great going into the start,” Keller said. “I had a great game plan with [catcher] Cam [Gallagher] and Cal [Eldred]. Tried to stick to it as much as we can. It was a tough loss today.
“Just watching the two games before, we really felt like we had to stick with the heater today. We were able to locate it pretty well today, and got in when we needed to. So yeah, it was pretty good.”
Keller’s only real mistake was a high four-seamer to Jason Castro in the seventh that Castro hit just over the center-field wall.
Keller was nicked for a run in the sixth when second baseman Luis Arraez singled, went to second when a slider eluded Gallagher, went to third on a groundout by Nelson Cruz and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Eddie Rosario.
“It’s a tough block, but it’s a ball Cam can block,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the slider that got past Gallagher that was ruled a wild pitch.
The other significance to this loss was Royals super-utility man Whit Merrifield seeing his streak of not going hitless in back-to-back games come to an end at 135, which was the second longest in the American League since 1946. Ichiro Suzuki had the longest at 180 games in 2008-09.
The last time Merrifield went hitless in back-to-back games had been Sept. 4-5, 2018 in Cleveland against Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber.
It was a streak perhaps every bit as impressive as Merrifield’s club-record hitting streak of 31 straight games.
“He’s really swinging the bat,” Yost said of Merrifield. “He’s been such a consistent force, and that streak just shows you how consistent he is. Just a model of consistency at the Major League level.”
Merrifield, who went 0-for-4 Saturday night, lined out to right field in his first at-bat against left-hander Devin Smeltzer. Merrifield then blooped a ball to short right field in the fourth that was run down by Arraez.
“That’s baseball,” Merrifield said. “It’s funny. You have to have some luck to go on runs like this, like that extra-inning game when I got a hit. Balls fall in sometimes.
“But this is the best my swing has felt in two or three weeks. It’s just funny that it comes to an end when I’m feeling this good. I smoked the first one — they say it all evens out — but then I thought the blooper would fall in. Whoever said that it all evens out, I don’t know what they’re smoking.”
Merrifield flied out to center in the sixth and lined out again to right field in the ninth, as Jake Cave made a tremendous diving catch — rated as a five-star play by Statcast — to rob him of a hit and end the game.
“I didn’t think about [the streak] until recently when you guys brought it up,” Merrifield said. “I didn’t even know people kept streaks like that. Looking back on it now, it sort of reflects the good stretch of consistency I’ve had. That’s what I strive for. Makes me feel good with what I’ve done.”