Indians look to keep rolling in series vs. Royals

The Kansas City Royals hadn’t been hitting lately.

Their pitching had been failing, too.

But in the past two years, they could always count on their stellar defense to bail them out when everything else was falling apart. It was the one constant during a surprising run to Game 7 of the World Series two years ago, and to their five-game whipping of the New York Mets last fall for the championship.

So when they committed three errors before recording their first out in a 13-2 blowout loss to Washington on Wednesday – well, that pretty much sealed what everyone was thinking.

This is a team in a slump.

”This thing goes in cycles,” manager Ned Yost insisted a day before Kansas City (14-13) opens a seven-game road trip Friday night in Cleveland. ”We’re not firing on all cylinders offensively. We’ve got guys that are struggling right now, guys that are proven players – guys that have tremendous track records and they’re going to break out of it real soon.”

It sure seemed like they had done that Tuesday, when they rallied from a two-run deficit with three in the ninth against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Lorenzo Cain, slumping more than just about anyone, delivered the winning hit. He was mobbed in the middle of the diamond, and for a fleeting moment it seemed just like last year, when it seemed that Kansas City would rally for victory no matter the odds.

Cain thought it just might get himself going. Yost was optimistic his team was turning the corner.

They followed it up with their meltdown Wednesday.

Mike Moustakas and Omar Infante began the game with back-to-back errors. The Nationals followed with four straight hits. They scored six times in the first inning, and Kansas City wound up allowing 16 hits in a humiliating series-ending defeat.

”It was just one of those really, really frustrating days,” starter Kris Medlen said, ”that’s now over.”

The Royals had a day off Thursday to ponder their situation.

After a strong start, they’ve lost seven of nine heading into this three-game series. They’re near the bottom of the league in runs, homers and just about every other meaningful offensive category. Their starting rotation has struggled mightily during the latest swoon, putting so much pressure on their stalwart bullpen that it’s starting to buckle.

All-Star outfielder Alex Gordon is hitting .211. Silver Slugger winner Kendrys Morales is batting .200. Cain is hitting .232 while Salvador Perez, like Cain an All-Star last year, is batting .241.

Just about the only one who’s been hitting is first baseman Eric Hosmer, and his frustration with the strike zone Wednesday got him ejected for the first time in his career.

Put it all together and a day off before hitting the road couldn’t have come at a better time.

”Just forget about the past couple of weeks and get a fresh start heading to Cleveland,” Hosmer said. ”Those guys play us tough. There’s always a little more energy when we play those guys because of the past we’ve had with them. They’ve played tough against us and we’ve played tough against them.

”So hopefully this can wake us up a little bit and we can get it rolling.”

The Indians (13-12) are doing that themselves after sweeping Detroit for the second time in two weeks, outscoring the Tigers 20-7 at Progressive Field after Thursday’s 9-4 rout.

Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura (2-1, 3.67 ERA) was cruising through April until Saturday at Seattle, where he allowed three hits but walked six in four innings that led to five runs in a 6-0 loss. Four of those came on a pair of homers in the first inning.

"I didn’t have very good command all game,” Ventura said through a translator. ”I was looking for command of my pitches, but it was off and on. I struggled with it.”

He’s usually had it against Cleveland, going 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA.

Danny Salazar (2-2, 2.40) hasn’t been so proficient keeping runs off the board against the Royals, going 4-5 with a 4.64 ERA in nine starts. Hosmer has done the most damage, going 8 for 20 with two homers and four doubles.

The right-hander has been better than anyone in baseball at stifling hitters, though. Salazar’s .139 opponent batting average is the best in the majors, narrowly ahead of NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.