Royals’ hitters stymied in loss to Jays

KANSAS CITY — It took the Royals until the sixth inning in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader to figure out Blue Jays lefty Steven Matz, but because of the seven-inning twin-bill rules this season, the sixth was too late.

Nicky Lopez poked a two-strike single into left field to break up Matz’s no-hitter — which wouldn’t have been a true no-hitter in the seven-inning game — in the Royals’ 5-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium. Lopez got down to two strikes quickly to Matz, but he was able to lay off an effective changeup before shortening his stride and dropping a single into shallow left.

“You know he’s got that no-no going with two innings left,” Lopez said. “Just try to put the bat on the ball. He was throwing it in and out effectively. Had the offspeed working, throwing the changeup to righties and lefties, too, so he was in a groove. I was just trying to put the ball in play.”

Andrew Benintendi’s RBI double to the left-field wall put Kansas City on the board, and the club threatened again in the seventh. Carlos Santana walked for the 1,000th time in his career — joining Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera as the only active players with 1,000 walks — and Jorge Soler was hit by a pitch to put two runners on.

But a double play and Hunter Dozier’s infield popup squelched any late rallies.

“Ran into a good start today,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Matz was throwing the ball well. You could tell the guys weren’t seeing the late movement. Had them really bearing in using the backdoor, using the top. Didn’t have a lot of chase, but he controlled the tempo of the game, no doubt about it.”

Before the sixth, the Royals had little to no chances against Matz, who kept them off-balance with his sinker, changeup and curveball. Whit Merrifield’s leadoff walk in the first inning and Soler’s walk in the fifth were the only baserunners of the game until Lopez and Benintendi reached.

Matz didn’t generate a ton of swing-and-miss — he only had six whiffs — instead relying on weak contact. The hardest-hit ball from the Royals was Benintendi’s 97.1 mph groundout in the fourth inning. Kansas City averaged an 84 mph exit velocity against Matz, according to Statcast.

“He just stuck to his bread and butter of the sinkers and sliders and changeups,” Lopez said. “He stuck to his plan. Maybe that’s on us, maybe we were a little bit too swing-happy or didn’t adjust the way that we should have, but that’s baseball. Sometimes if someone’s on, you have to tip the cap, but that’s why we have two games today.”

The Blue Jays jumped on Royals starter Mike Minor in the first inning, knocking back-to-back singles before Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s two-run double. Minor kept them at bay until home runs in the fifth and sixth innings, but his 5 2/3 innings were enough to help save the Royals’ bullpen for Game 2. Reliever Wade Davis allowed one run on one hit in 1 2/3 innings, aided by a stellar catch at the left-field wall by Benintendi.

Minor now has a 5.17 ERA across three starts with the Royals this season. He’s been able to go deep in games — a big reason why the club signed him this offseason — but hasn’t been able to avoid big innings by opponents yet. The home runs he allowed were both on fastballs down the middle to Jonathan Davis and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who swung on the first pitch.

“The Guerrero one was a fastball in, but the guy will swing at any fastball, so I don’t know why I threw it right there,” Minor said. “It was pretty much down the middle I believe. Just a bad pitch.

“I just feel like I need to attack the hitters more with fastballs. I feel like I’ve been throwing a lot of junk up there, but that’s not me. I feel like I need to get ahead with fastballs. The last couple games, we’ve nibbled here and there. Need to get ahead of guys, and just throw the fastball more. We’ll see.”