Royals deliver clutch plays after Dozier’s injury

ARLINGTON — Alex Gordon’s unexpected entry into Thursday night’s game against the Rangers, on a planned day off, yielded immediate benefits for the Royals in a 4-2 victory in the series opener at Globe Life Park. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of third baseman Hunter Dozier’s departure due to injury.

Gordon replaced Dozier, who left the game and is day to day with tightness in his right side, to start the bottom of the fifth inning. Gordon went to left field and Chris Owings moved from left to third, where Dozier had started. In that inning, Owings made a nifty barehanded pick and Gordon made an athletic catch on the warning track for the third out.

Then, in the top of the sixth, Gordon’s cue-shot infield hit set the stage for Jorge Soler’s go-ahead three-run homer on the next pitch. Adalberto Mondesi led off the inning with a single before Gordon hit a nubber that rolled past third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Shortstop Elvis Andrus fielded it, but he didn’t have a play, throwing to second too late to get Mondesi.

After one more hitter, the Royals were able to chase Rangers lefty Mike Minor, who had already racked up eight strikeouts in the first five innings.

“Mondi got us started with a good at-bat. I fell behind with two strikes, and like I’ve done all year, I don’t want to strike out, I was just trying to put something in play and with Mondi’s speed, great things can happen,” Gordon said. “That’s about all I was trying to do against a tough lefty, just put it in play and make something happen, and luckily, it did.”

Dozier was 0-for-1 with a fourth-inning walk; he didn’t advance beyond first then and he played third base for another half-inning before Gordon replaced him. Having the six-time American League Gold Glove Award recipient in left certainly helped when Shin-Soo Choo lifted a ball to the track with two out.

“I guess the ball was carrying pretty well and I didn’t think he got it as good as he did, but apparently he did,” Gordon said. “When I caught it, I was surprised the fence was right there.”

Gordon’s catch, as well as the quick pick-and-throw play Owings made earlier in the inning, helped Royals starter Jakob Junis earn his second consecutive quality start. The right-hander allowed two earned runs and struck out seven in six innings.

“After the first inning, I felt like I was throwing my pitches pretty much where I wanted it, keeping them off-balance, and the defense played well behind me,” Junis said. “Chris Owings’ play, that barehanded ball … that’s huge, getting plays like that behind you.”

As for Dozier, he said he felt some discomfort in his last plate appearance of the night.

“Throughout the at-bat it just got tighter and tighter, and then they decided to take me out just to be careful,” Dozier said. “Quick decision. That’s something you don’t really mess around with, try to get on top of it before it gets worse.”

Dozier is the only Royals hitter with qualifying plate appearances with an average above .300 this season. He’s hitting .315 with 11 homers and a .990 OPS. He had multiple hits in four of his last five games entering Thursday.

Manager Ned Yost said he’ll probably have to give Dozier a day or two off now.

Kansas City hitters struck out 16 times on Thursday, a number that would often accompany a loss. But Junis’ performance, combined with scoreless innings by relievers Wily Peralta, Jake Diekman and Ian Kennedy, helped bail the offense out. Soler’s three-run homer off the foul pole and Mondesi’s insurance-run solo shot in the seventh were enough.

“We had a bunch of strikeouts, man,” Yost said. “We had three guys that struck out four times, but Soler and Mondy gave us all we needed.”