MINNEAPOLIS — Burch Smith has shown plenty of promise since joining the Royals’ rotation in early July, but he was stung by a pair of homers on Saturday night as he battled through his second rocky outing in a row.
In his fifth start of the year, Smith surrendered six runs on seven hits over five innings, while striking out four in an 8-2 loss to the Twins at Target Field.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty darn good,” manager Ned Yost said. “I thought he mixed his pitches well. I thought he was staying in the strike zone well. I felt like he was ahead in the count well. After he got through the fifth inning, we really needed him to get us through six and he started laboring. … I thought he did a good job of keeping us in the game and throwing strikes.”
For much of the season, one of Smith’s most effective weapons has been his changeup. According to Statcast™, he mixes it in 16.9 percent of the time and has generated a 31.5 percent whiff rate with the pitch this year. But Eddie Rosario hit Smith’s second changeup a projected 373 feet, according to Statcast™, for his 20th homer to put Kansas City in an early 1-0 hole.
“The home run to Rosario wasn’t a good pitch,” Yost said. “First-pitch changeup, he tried to go down and away and brought it back.”
From there, Smith went back to his changeup just six more times.
In his previous outing against the Yankees on Sunday, Smith threw his changeup 20 times. But he favored his curveball more often in that start and he threw the bender 29 times, generating four swinging strikes.
“We were just kind of going with what was working,” Smith said. “We felt pretty good with the curveball tonight, so we just went with it.”
Smith settled down after Rosario’s homer and struck out four over the next 2 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon’s two-run single in the third inning gave Smith a one-run lead when they took advantage of three walks from Twins starter Jose Berrios. But in the fourth, Smith left a 1-1 fastball up, and Max Kepler smashed a go-ahead two-run homer.
With his pitch count at 85, Smith started the sixth inning and surrendered a six-pitch walk to Miguel Sano. Kepler then poked a single on a well-executed hit-and-run that sent Sano to third, and ended Smith’s night.
Glenn Sparkman came on in relief and allowed an RBI double to Logan Forsythe and an RBI groundout to Bobby Wilson, as Smith was charged with both runs.
Berrios delivered a strong outing against the Royals for a second time this season, holding them to one run over seven innings on July 9. Kansas City mustered just two hits in the final four innings on Saturday as Addison Reed and Oliver Drake each tossed scoreless innings in relief for the Twins.
“Just really good,” Yost said of Berrios. “Changes speeds. He has the curveball, and then the fastball is tough to pick up. I was talking to the hitters — the fastball just jumps on you. He’s got that little whip at the end and you think you see it. Then, boom, it’s on you.”