KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the big picture, this still was a pretty good week for the Royals.
Even after dropping an 8-3 game to the Twins on Sunday, ending the Royals’ five-game winning streak, the Royals still find themselves over .500 at 9-8 as they embark on a seven-game trip through Cleveland and Baltimore.
"We took two of three from the Twins," DH Billy Butler said. "You can’t win every game. We had a bad one today but we’re hitting better. And we know we can count on our starting pitching."
Starting pitching, namely Yordano Ventura, wasn’t sharp Sunday. Ventura lasted only four innings and gave up six hits and four runs. He also walked four. And the Royals were out of this one in a hurry.
— Billy moving back to No. 4. Skipper Ned Yost told us after the game that Butler, who had two more hits Sunday as well as a deep flyout to center, likely would return to the No. 4 spot. Butler has been hitting sixth. "This is the Billy we’re used to seeing," Yost said. Butler has hit in his last five games and is 7 for his last 19. "I do feel like I’m seeing it a little better," Butler said. "It’s all about timing and for whatever reason, my timing has been better lately."
— Justin Marks has up-and-down debut: Left-hander Justin Marks likely will remember some good and some bad from his major-league debut. He pitched a scoreless sixth inning that included a strikeout of Joe Mauer. Yost sent Marks back out for the seventh and Marks struggled, giving up four hits, two walks and three runs. Normally, managers tend to take a rookie out after a successful inning to boost the young player’s confidence — in baseball circles that’s called managing the player. But Yost also has a greater responsibility — managing the team. He needed Marks and fellow rookie Michael Mariot to each throw two innings, which they did. "I didn’t want to have to use any of my big men in the bullpen in a game we were down 5-1," Yost said.
— The play that might have saved the Twins. OK, so normally we don’t speak of greatness from the opponent, but Twins second baseman Brian Dozier made the play of the game (and the series) in the fifth inning. The Royals already had scored once to pull within 5-1 and had runners at the corners when Sal Perez came to bat with one out. Perez sent a rocket line drive headed for right-center field. Dozier dived to his right, made a sensational one-hop snare, and flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who turned the inning-ending double play. "Who knows what might have happened if that ball gets through?" Yost said, shaking his head.
— A downer day for Ventura. It was pretty clear early on that Yordano Ventura didn’t have his best command. He labored through the first inning, giving up two hits, two walks and two runs. He had only one 1-2-3 inning before leaving in the fifth inning. Ventura, through interpreter Bruce Chen, said after the game it was largely a matter of mechanics. "I kept flying open with my hips," he said. Thus, Ventura had difficulty getting his arm in the right slot and most of his pitches sailed or drifted high.
— A ball LoCain would have had. This is likely nitpicking, I’ll admit it up front: But the ball that Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit to the base of the wall in the fifth likely would have been caught by Lorenzo Cain, who is on the disabled list. Perhaps even Jarrod Dyson, on the bereavement list, would have caught it, too. But Justin Maxwell, not accustomed to playing center field at The K, seemed hesitant to get too aggressive with the wall and backed off Plouffe’s drive, which bounced off the base of the wall for a triple. We’ve seen Cain rob countless hitters of extra bases on similar drives.
— Can we take a pitch? This might be nitpicking, too, but after Twins starter Phil Hughes walked Alcides Escobar in the second, loading the bases, Norichika Aoki seemed a bit too anxious. Aoki went after the very next pitch from Hughes and flied out harmlessly to center. The Royals had a great chance there, trailing 2-0, to jump back into the game. And Hughes seemed to be willing — he lost Escobar after getting ahead in the count 0-2 and obviously was struggling with his command. And yes, it’s true that when a pitcher is struggling he often serves up a fat one down the middle, which is likely what the veteran Aoki was thinking. But the Royals let Hughes off the hook.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.