After one batter, Franklin Morales could shrug it off. But after four hitters, it became impossible to ignore.
The Royals’ left-hander struggled in his one inning of work in Wednesday night’s 6-0 loss to the White Sox. Each of the first four batters (all Chicago reserves) against Morales scored as he was tagged with four runs on four hits and a walk while striking out two.
Emilio Bonifacio legged out a triple to left-center, J.B. Shuck followed with a ground-rule double to right-center and Neftali Soto drew a walk. Then, Keon Barnum launched a 1-2 slider over the right-field wall to put the White Sox up 6-0.
The subpar performance continues a Cactus League downturn for Morales, who is almost assured a spot on the Opening Day roster as the lefty out of the bullpen. In his first four appearances, he threw six scoreless innings while allowing two hits and striking out seven. Since then, he has yielded eight runs in three innings.
The Royals lost Tim Collins to Tommy John surgery and decided to start Brandon Finnegan in the minors, opening the door for Morales to pounce on an open bullpen role. The only other lefty in contention for a roster spot is Brian Flynn.
• Vargas’ start. Jason Vargas turned in his best performance of the spring, tossing six innings of three-hit ball. He gave up one run in the third inning, when a pair of walks came back to bite him following a two-out RBI single from Shuck. Vargas threw 77 pitches — 53 for strikes — and struck out four.
• Flynn’s outing. While Morales struggled in the eighth inning, Flynn threw a 1-2-3 frame in the ninth. He coaxed two groundballs and punched out Shuck to punctuate his outing. Flynn, who came to Kansas City from Miami as part of the Aaron Crow trade, now has six consecutive scoreless appearances.
With Morales likely to make the Opening Day roster, Luke Hochevar questionable for the start of the season and the Royals leaning toward a seven-man bullpen, the final reliever spot comes down to Flynn and Louis Coleman.
• Moustakas’ snag. Third baseman Mike Moustakas made a highlight grab in the sixth inning, snatching Melky Cabrera’s smoking line drive to the hot corner. Moustakas was on the infield grass when Cabrera turned on Vargas’ first pitch of the inning, ripping that ball right at him.
• Royals against Rodon. Carlos Rodon, Chicago’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2014, dominated Kansas City on Wednesday, notching nine strikeouts in four innings. Only Moustakas and Omar Infante didn’t strike out against the 22-year-old, while Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer each fanned twice against him. The Royals should see plenty of Rodon, a non-roster invitee, down the road as the he works his way through the White Sox system.
Wednesday marked the first time the Royals were shut out in 2015.
• Coleman’s rocky inning. Coleman gave up a home run to Avisail Garcia, the first batter he faced in the seventh inning, but ensured that would be the only damage against him. Coleman allowed a one-out single but got out of the inning with a flyout and a groundout. His performance Thursday comes on the heels of a dominating outing against San Diego, when he struck out five of the six Padres he faced.
Coleman does not have any options remaining, meaning he would have to pass through waivers if the Royals removed him from the active roster. That could be the deciding factor if he makes the team.
• Infante’s defense. Infante started his second straight game at second base and finally got some action in the field. Although he recorded two assists at second, Infante failed to turn a double play in the third inning when catcher Brett Austin beat the throw to first.
Infante is dealing with an elbow spur in his right (throwing) elbow that limited his participation to designated hitter duties prior to this week.
The Royals will take on a Mariners split-squad team on Thursday in Peoria, with Guthrie facing Felix Hernandez. Kansas City is also scheduled to trot out right-handed relievers Greg Holland, Jason Frason, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson.