Royals manager Trey Hillman approached closer Joakim Soria during batting practice to run an idea past him. With the team mired in a 10-game losing streak and the bullpen failing almost every night, he might need to get six outs instead of three.
After the way Luke Hochevar pitched, there wasn’t any doubt.
Hochevar struck out a career-high 13 in seven innings and Soria earned a rare six-out save, helping Kansas City end its slide with a 6-3 win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.
Hochevar (6-3) put the Royals in position by compiling the second-most strikeouts in team history and most since 1996. He was particularly effective against Texas’ big three of Josh Hamilton, Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock, striking them out a combined nine times to end the Rangers‘ five-game winning streak.
Billy Butler‘s two-run homer gave the Royals the lead in the fifth inning, two more runs were added in the seventh and Soria took the pressure off Kansas City’s beleaguered bullpen with his third career six-out save. The seven-game home losing streak and all those bullpen meltdowns were finally over.
“The eighth inning has been so treacherous for us, and I just told him you’ve got to be mentally prepared for it ahead of time and physically you’ve got to sell us on the fact that you can,” Hillman said.
Texas seemed to finally turn the corner in its weeklong battle with the flu, but didn’t have much left after piecing together lineups every day. The Rangers had one hit after the fifth inning, struck out 16 times and couldn’t overcome Derek Holland‘s second straight shaky outing.
“When you strike out that much, you’re not putting a lot of pressure on the defense,” Texas manager Ron Washington said.
Hochevar got off to a rocky start, with Michael Young hitting a solo homer two pitches after David DeJesus snared Ian Kinsler‘s game-opening drive against the wall in left.
After that, the right-hander had the Rangers waving at pitches well out of the strike zone and matched his career high of nine strikeouts – set in his previous start – by the fifth. But Hochevar also had a couple of wild pitches in the dirt; one that scored Kinsler from third in the third inning, another that helped set up Nelson Cruz‘s RBI single in the fourth.
Hochevar struck out five more after that and left after allowing three runs – two earned – and five hits. He fell one short of Mark Gubicza’s team strikeout record and became the first Royals pitcher to have 13 strikeouts with no walks.
“It was just being aggressive in the strike zone and attacking the hitters,” Hochevar said as he stood in front of a handmade sign that spelled his name with 13 Ks. “Changing speeds and moving the ball around, but constantly being aggressive in the strike zone.”
The Royals got a run on John Buck‘s single in the fourth and appeared to get a spark when Hillman was ejected at the end of the inning for arguing a close play at first.
Ryan Freel and DeJesus opened the fifth with consecutive doubles off Holland (3-6) for one run, then Butler lifted a two-run homer to right to put the Royals up 4-3. Alberto Callaspo followed with a single to chase Holland, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings after being knocked around for three runs in four innings his last start.
“It’s frustrating, but also it’s a learning process,” said Holland, who has allowed a homer in eight of his nine starts. “I’m only 22. These guys have been around and they know what to expect. I’m still learning.”
The Royals kept it going against Jason Jennings in the seventh, going up 6-3 on Mark Teahen‘s sacrifice fly and Miguel Olivo‘s RBI double.
That left it up to Kansas City’s bullpen, which had given up 24 runs in its previous 21 innings, 13 in the eighth during the seven-game homestand.
Hillman didn’t take any chances, bringing in Soria to start the eighth. The right-hander needed 37 pitches and allowed a two-out double to Marlon Byrd in the ninth, but struck out three to finish off his 15th save in 17 chances.
“I want to help my team in any way and now they need me to get six outs,” Soria said. “I tried to do my best and things turned out well.”
Rangers closer Frank Francisco (pneumonia) has been running and throwing at the Ballpark in Arlington, but is still probably a couple of days from coming off the disabled list. … Olivo is 0 for 12 with the bases loaded this season after flying out in the first.