Rays can’t find rhythm in Kansas City, swept by Royals in doubleheader

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Glenn Sparkman and Kelvin Gutierrez were hanging out at Triple-A Omaha last weekend, the career reliever and young third baseman eagerly awaiting a call from the Kansas City Royals.

They both got it. And they both made the most of it.

Sparkman was recalled on Wednesday to start the second game of a doubleheader against Tampa Bay, and he merely breezed through seven innings of three-hit ball while outpitching reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell in an 8-0 victory. Gutierrez hit his first homer in the second game to go with an RBI in the first, which Kansas City took by a 3-2 score.

“My focus today was just trying to stay relaxed. Don’t let the game get too big,” said Sparkman, who arrived in town about 1 a.m. and proceeded to earn his first major league win. “I knew I had to go out there and do my thing to get the sweep.”

In the opener, Adalberto Mondesi hit a two-run homer to highlight a three-run first inning for Kansas City, and Jacob Junis and the bullpen held on the rest of the way. Mondesi also drove in a run in the second game to cap a big afternoon, while Gutierrez’s homer off the foul pole helped him match a Royals record with seven RBIs in his first five games.

It was the first time the Royals swept a doubleheader since July 7, 2015, when a team that would reach its second straight World Series also accomplished the feat against the Rays.

“The first game we scored three runs in the first and just could not tack on, and fortunately we were able to tack on in the second,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We broke the game open.”

The sweep was especially eye-opening given Tampa Bay was coming off a club-record 19 wins through April, and the Royals had stumbled into the day having lost eight of their last 10.

“I mean look, doubleheaders are tough to begin with. I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the Royals,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “They came out and ready to go, two ballgames, sweep the doubleheader — whether you’re at home or on the road, that’s a difficult thing to do in baseball, and they just did it to what we would consider a good team.”

Junis (3-2) won his second consecutive start , both against the Rays, by allowing two runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings in the opener. The young pitcher walked two and struck out two.

The Royals jumped on Rays opener Ryne Stanek (0-1) when Whit Merrifield led off with a double and stole third before Mondesi drilled his fourth homer this season to right. Alex Gordon walked and later scored as the first four batters reached safely.

Ian Kennedy worked two scoreless innings for his second save in three chances.

The Royals kept rolling in the second game, getting the first of two RBI singles by Jorge Soler and Gutierrez’s homer to stake them to a 3-0 lead against Snell after the first inning.

Kansas City added another run in the third before a four-run fourth inning sent Snell to the clubhouse. The first six batters reached base in the frame on four hits and a pair of walks.

Billy Hamilton chased Snell (2-3) with an RBI single in the fourth, the third straight batter to reach to start the inning. By the time all three scored, Snell had allowed seven runs on six hits and three walks in his second start since a 10-day layoff for a broken toe.

“It was uncharacteristic,” Cash said. “He just never could get it right, for whatever reason.”

DOUBLE DIPPING

The doubleheader was caused by a rainout Tuesday night. The Rays don’t return to Kansas City, so with more rain looming on Wednesday night, the decision was made to start early and play a traditional doubleheader rather than a day-night set. The forecast looks good for the series finale Thursday.

STATS AND STREAKS

The last time the Royals swept a traditional doubleheader was Sept. 13, 2008, at Cleveland. … The Royals stole two bases in each game, giving them a league-leading 33 this season. … The seven runs Snell allowed were a career high. He had allowed just eight earned runs in his previous 28 1/3 innings. … The Rays’ Daniel Robertson and Ji-Man Choi homered in the ninth in the second game.

UP NEXT

Rays RHP Charlie Morton (3-0, 2.76) tries to remain unbeaten when the teams conclude a four-game set Thursday. LHP Danny Duffy (0-1, 5.40) is on the mound for the Royals.