Minor solid but yields 4 runs in ‘frustrating’ L

TORONTO — The Royals’ streak of quality starts is over at six, and Mike Minor’s bid for a third straight win fell short, but the lefty’s post-All-Star glow has not gone away.

Even in the Royals’ 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, Minor was just a few swings shy of a spotless stat line. Toronto converted its five hits off Minor into four runs thanks to a pair of homers and an RBI triple.

“I was happy with my performance,” Minor said. “I feel like [George] Springer might’ve had the only two hard-hit balls that I remember. There might’ve been some decent ones on the ground, but I can’t really remember anybody [else] that squared me up. That’s the frustrating part of it, that I go seven innings but I give up four runs.”

Responsibility for the first home run goes to Minor, who grooved a first-pitch, middle-in fastball to Springer in Toronto’s opening at-bat.

“I knew he was swinging first pitch of the game because he’s done that a lot,” Minor said. “So instead of just throwing one middle-away, we were actually trying to go in. … Maybe he was just geared up for a fastball.”

But when Springer struck again in the third inning, he left the yard on a fastball painted over the outer edge. And in the sixth, Minor could only watch as a ball bounced in front of diving center fielder Michael A. Taylor and bounded past for an RBI triple.

“Tough read,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Taylor’s play. “The ball checks up on this stuff; there’s a lot of rubber in the surface. He did the right thing by going aggressive and then just trying to back off and keep it in front. I think the turf got him.”

Even with all of that, Minor completed six-plus innings for the third consecutive start — he’s only had one other stretch like that in 2021. He’s now allowed just seven runs over 19 innings (3.32 ERA) in the season’s second half. Compare that to a 5.67 ERA in his prior starts this season and there’s cause for encouragement that the veteran can finish strong.

The All-Star break is not an arbitrary marker for Minor’s turnaround, either. The time off — which was extended to nine days when the Royals pushed Minor further back in the rotation — was useful for the 33-year-old who noted he’s been “battling through some things” this season.

“Mechanics, fatigue, not feeling good when you’re out there,” Minor said. “That plays a role in what pitches you might throw, what pitches might not be breaking like they should be with the arm speed and stuff like that. Like I said, the [time] off gave me a little break, kind of a reset. I’ve felt a lot better the last three starts and I think that shows.”

Offensively, the Royals had far fewer bright spots to glean. Whit Merrifield extended his hit streak to 11 games with a hard one-hopper past third base in the eighth inning, but that was one of just three hits the team had all day. They only advanced one baserunner past first base, and they were shut out for the sixth time this season (first since July 18).

For that, some credit is certainly due to Toronto starter Alek Manoah, a rookie who the Royals were all seeing for the very first time. Merrifield said it’s Manoah’s unique delivery that made him so unsolvable for the Royals.

“As much as he’s coming across his body, his arm is pretty late compared to the rest of his delivery and the ball just kind of pops out,” Merrifield said. “It’s tough to get your timing down.”

The Royals’ run of three straight series victories is over, but they can salvage the start of this road trip by taking Game 3 in Toronto on Sunday afternoon.