For all the talk this off-season about the new and improved Royals’ starting rotation, there was one area on last year’s team that was equally as abysmal as the rotation – the offense.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost are banking on the hope that the Royals’ young hitters will mature and improve dramatically in 2013.
But once again, Royals’ hitters are off to a slow start.
The Royals wasted a strong debut from right-hander James Shields, losing 1-0 at Chicago after mustering just seven hits – all singles – against Chris Sale and three White Sox relievers.
It was eerily similar to last year’s opener against the Angels when the Royals wasted six shutout innings from Bruce Chen and eventually were shut out, 5-0.
And it was an all too familiar scene from last year when the Royals finished 12th in the league in runs scored, and scored just three runs or less in 79 of their games.
This year, of course, is supposed to be different. The Royals’ offense is a year older and has a healthy Lorenzo Cain and a healthy Salvador Perez in the lineup to start the season.
And after the Royals tore up spring training, leading the league with a .335 team average and in runs scored with 230, the Royals’ faithful certainly have reason for hope.
But the Royals were no match Monday for Sale, who struck out seven Royals in 7 2/3 innings and walked just one.
“Sale was dynamic, just phenomenal,” Yost told reporters in Chicago. “It was a just a well-pitched game from both sides, which is what we’d thought it would be.”
Truth be told, though, the Royals are counting on more production from their feeble offense.
The main reason the Royals fired hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in the off-season was that Yost believed the Royals were not reaching their power potential, and had become too much of a singles and doubles team.
But in their first game under new hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, the Royals didn’t look much different from last year – at least not in terms of approach or in results.
The Royals hit only one ball deep – Perez’s line shot off the left-field fence in the second inning, which resulted only in a single. Otherwise, the Royals slapped six other singles off Sale, who had little trouble escaping the few jams he faced.
In the third inning, Jeff Francoeur singled, Alex Gordon walked and Alcides Escobar reached on an infield single, loading the bases with one out.
But the Royals’ best chance of the day faded when Sale threw two changeups and two soft curves to Billy Butler — the last curve was down and in, and Butler missed badly.
Mike Moustakas, who looked overmatched all day, followed with a weak pop fly to right.
“That was a great chance for us,” Yost said. “But Sale threw some great pitches to Billy. He painted the black three times.”
Butler also tipped his hat to Sale.
“I might have expanded the zone a bit,” Butler said. “But he’s a great pitcher. He threw great pitches.”
Eric Hosmer started the Royals’ seventh with a solid single, but after Cain was robbed of a hit by White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham on a liner up the middle, Francoeur rolled into an inning-ending double play.
The Royals threatened in the eighth with two out when Escobar singled and stole second. Right-hander Nate Jones came in to face Butler, who promptly walked. Escobar went to third on ball four to Butler when the ball skipped in the dirt.
White Sox skipper Robin Ventura then opted for left-hander Matt Thornton to face Moustakas, who whiffed on three pitches, the last pitch crossing the plate at Moustakas’ shoulders.
The Royals had another opportunity in the ninth against White Sox closer Addison Reed when Hosmer, who had three excellent at bats, drew a one-out walk. Hosmer then stole second when Cain struck out swinging.
But Francoeur, as is his custom, swung at the first pitch from Reed and grounded out weakly to shortstop, ending the game.
“Well-pitched, well-played game,” Yost said. “It was a lot of fun to watch.”