KANSAS CITY — This was the classic bounceback game by a pitcher who is becoming one of the best in the American League.
Royals right-hander Brad Keller had opened the 2020 season by tossing 17 2/3 scoreless innings. That streak came to an end in Keller’s last outing, when he was roughed up for six hits and five runs in four-plus innings at St. Louis.
But Keller came back in a big way Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, tossing 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Indians. The Royals won, 2-1, after Maikel Franco and Bubba Starling came through with RBI singles in the eighth inning.
The Royals suffered three walk-off losses last week, and manager Mike Matheny said his club was due for some good fortune.
“You just keep playing,” Matheny said. “That’s the message we had with the guys before the game — ‘You guys just keep playing the game and do the little things and improve every day.’ But it came down to getting the big hit with Franco and then Bubba, just staying short to the ball and using the middle of the field. That could have been the difference in so many games for us.”
It was Starling’s first hit since Aug. 4, and only his fifth at-bat since then. Starling’s hit Monday came off right-hander Adam Cinder.
“It’s tough coming in when your timing is off,” Starling said, “especially coming in and facing a submarine guy like that. I know my role, and I want to help the team anyway I can.”
Royals reliever Greg Holland — a pending free agent and the subject of trade rumors the past week — got the save, his first as a Royal at Kauffman Stadium since Sept. 8, 2015.
“Thinking about being traded, or being a pending free agent,” Holland said, “never does you any good. … I just feel like we’re close right now to going on a run.”
Keller held Cleveland scoreless through six innings on one hit and had thrown 94 pitches. He came back out for the seventh and got Francisco Lindor on a flyout before giving up a single to Carlos Santana and an RBI double to Franmil Reyes on 2-0 sinker.
Reliever Jesse Hahn got the final two outs of the seventh.
Keller gave up three hits overall while walking one and striking out four, lowering his ERA to 1.93. He got 10 called strikes out of 41 four-seam fastballs, as opponents were once again wary of his improving slider, which he threw 34 times while getting seven called strikes or whiffs.
“Obviously in the first inning I racked up the pitch count too much,” Keller said. “It wasn’t until the fourth inning or so when I thought I could put the fastball where I wanted it. Honestly, after three innings when I was at 65 pitches or so, with the way our bullpen [has been taxed], I needed to slow things down and get in a zone somehow, make them hit the ball and let our defense work.”
Matheny was impressed, saying, “He’s just been so good. I can’t say enough about him.”
Added acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar, “He’s probably their best pitcher. He commanded the outside corner, has a good cutter, good breaking ball, and he can elevate. He knows how to pitch. He’s been their most solid guy since he came back.”
Meanwhile, the Royals had no answer for Shane Bieber, who continues to dominate the league. Bieber threw six scoreless and gave up just one hit, a bloop single by Franco in the second. Bieber’s ERA lowered to 1.20, but the Royals prevented him from improving to 7-0 with their rally in the eighth against the Tribe bullpen.