Tough return start ‘happened fast’ for Minor

ARLINGTON — As Mike Minor plowed through the Rangers’ lineup through the first three innings on Friday night, Royals manager Mike Matheny thought he might be watching his club’s first complete game of the year.

Minor had thrown 37 pitches through three scoreless innings and held a one-run lead after Whit Merrifield’s triple in the third.

That’s when the Rangers flipped the switch and sent the Royals on their way to a 9-4 series-opening loss at Globe Life Field.

Minor, who was facing his former club for the first time since being traded last August, walked Adolis García to lead off the fourth inning and didn’t record an out until four batters later, after the Rangers had taken the lead. Merrifield made a diving stop on Andy Ibáñez’s sharp grounder but overthrew first base for an error, and Hunter Dozier misread a liner to left field that rolled to the wall for a triple.

Jonah Heim’s RBI single gave the Rangers a four-run inning and three-run lead. Two innings later, Minor allowed three consecutive singles and back-to-back doubles, ending his night after five-plus innings, 79 pitches and a career-high nine runs allowed.

“It happened fast,” Matheny said. “I truly thought we were watching our first complete game of the season. The way he was rolling, making good pitches, and then a couple things happened fast.”

Minor had just two strikeouts, his fewest of the year, and registered nine total whiffs and 11 called strikes.

“I felt like even when I made decent pitches, they still got hits,” Minor said. “That’s kind of how the night went. That might have been one of the worst games of my career, statistically, but I don’t feel like I’m going to change a whole lot. … That’s basically the outing right there. Not making pitches that I want. Not making pitches that I need to.”

The Royals would have liked Minor to get through six innings or more based on the state of their overworked relievers and a bullpen game on deck with Kyle Zimmer starting Saturday’s middle game. But they did get a fresh arm in that bullpen on Friday: Danny Duffy.

The veteran starter threw a clean, 15-pitch seventh inning after logging two innings on Wednesday against the Yankees in his first outing since coming off the injured list. Friday was Duffy’s bullpen day, so the Royals elected to use him on the mound instead of in a side session pregame — and it’s a role he’s likely to be in for the time being, Matheny explained.

“What this means is probably less of a ramp up in a traditional sense and what you’d look for and more of what we saw [on Wednesday],” Matheny said. “Keeping him to a modest pitch count. Trying to figure out how we can keep him on the mound as often as possible and keep him healthy. That’s what it comes down to.”

Matheny would not say if this new role is directly related to Duffy’s left forearm flexor strain that saw him miss six weeks of the season, but the skipper noted that it’s “just how things are trending.”

“How can we keep him healthy?” Matheny said. “How can we keep him being an effective part of our staff? I think there’s concern that if we run him out there every fifth day and stretch him as a starter, deep into pitch counts, that we’re going to have to have more of the same. That’s something we’d like to stay away from, so is there a way we can still get him significant innings but do it in a different way? Today would have been his bullpen day, so instead of using a bullpen up, we used him on the mound. And he threw the ball really well.”

Matheny said Duffy is still on track to start a game in Boston next week, but it’ll be on a limited basis. And he might be used in the bullpen in between starts to spread out his total pitch count instead of on a traditional starter’s basis.

There’s also the chance Duffy could be used in higher leverage spots in relief, too.

“It’s something we’re going to give a try and see how Danny’s body responds,” Matheny said. “… We talked about what we need to do for each of these guys to give them a chance to stay healthy, to give them their best chance for success. This will be a bit of a different look.”