MILWAUKEE — The Royals didn’t break the game open when they had a bases-loaded opportunity in the eighth inning against the National League Central-leading Brewers on Tuesday afternoon, but they ultimately didn’t have to.
A game-tying home run by Jorge Soler and a go-ahead two-run shot by Ryan O’Hearn worked in concert with six solid innings from Mike Minor, and Kansas City started off the two-game Interleague set with a 5-2 win at American Family Field.
“We know that we haven’t played well, but guys aren’t just going to give up,” Minor said. “We had a little bit of a break with the All-Star break and we have some off-days coming up and stuff, so guys would probably feel rejuvenated a little bit. It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re still gonna try to get as many ways as we can. Even though it sometimes probably doesn’t look like it, guys are trying.”
For both Soler and Minor, there’s hope that their performances could help spark something of a turnaround in their individual seasons.
Soler still isn’t close to the slugger he showed he could be in 2019, when he led the American League with 48 home runs and finished tied for second with 117 RBIs. He came into Milwaukee hitting just .183 with a .590 OPS — both the lowest marks among Tuesday’s starters — and he’d hit just seven homers on the year.
Meanwhile, Minor was 6-8 with a 5.67 ERA through his first 19 starts of the season, and he’d been 0-4 with a 10.80 ERA in his previous four.
After the Royals fell behind by a run in the second on Manny Piña’s 2-run single, Minor scattered three hits over the ensuing four frames as he earned his first quality start in exactly a month. Though the veteran lefty said he was “effectively wild” because he felt he was missing too many spots and leaving his fastball up in the zone, he made pitches when he had to and bought the offense time to rally.
“Right now, it’s all about starting pitching. Seems like everything else kind of falls in line,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He was really good, and really there in the second, we just didn’t help him. We had two plays that we didn’t make that ended up costing him.
“Probably cost him, obviously, two runs, but probably about 20 pitches also. There’s a chance he gets through that sixth sitting at about 60, but he did a great job of picking us up and not letting it turn into too much.”
As Minor put his outing together, Soler smacked a solo shot off the batter’s eye in straight-away center field that tied things at 2 in the fourth. It was only his eighth long ball of the season and only his second since June 10, but it came on just multiple at-bats, and that makes Matheny believe Soler is feeling better at the plate.
“Just kind of trusted that if he got the barrel to it, then good things would happen,” Matheny said. “He hit the first one [a flyout to the warning track] pretty good, too, just missed that. We’re starting to see some more of those consistent at-bats. We’re starting to see him be able to lay off the marginal pitches. … All those are good signs.”
And when Matheny decided to pinch-hit for Minor in the top of the seventh, O’Hearn rewarded that decision with a two-run shot that put the Royals ahead for good as the bullpen, which has not allowed a run in three games against the Brewers this season, tossed three more scoreless frames, highlighted by a double-play ball from Kyle Zimmer with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Kansas City, which swept a two-game set with Milwaukee earlier this season at Kauffman Stadium, will look to go 4-0 with another sweep in the season series finale on Wednesday afternoon.
“I think that guys are still out there playing with 100 percent effort, no matter what the standings say, no matter what the wins and losses say,” Minor said.