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Royals fall 1-0 to Mariners

Published on -5/9/2014, 10:09 AM

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By Andy Mccullough

McClatchy-Tribune

The few feet of space surrounding Seattle catcher Mike Zunino on Thursday night must have felt like a wind tunnel, an energy source powered by the fruitless hacks of the Royals in a 1-0 loss.

A day after manager Ned Yost ventured his club was "starting to get our stride" on offense, they looked enfeebled at the hands of Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma. For eight tidy innings, a simple pattern emerged. Iwakuma pumped strikes. The Royals swung. Outs occurred.

Mistakes, the sort of pitches upon which the Royals (16-18) could inflict damage, "weren't there to be found," Yost said.

Instead, his team fell on a night when Danny Duffy authored six quality innings, the offense brought little to the table and Yost himself committed a pair of questionable tactical decisions.

The first call from the bench, an intentional walk in the third inning, led to Seattle's only run. The second maneuver, a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning, issued a lifeline to erratic closer Fernando Rodney.

After Iwakuma departed, Rodney represented an opportunity. He issued a four-pitch walk to shortstop Alcides Escobar. He threw another ball to outfielder Nori Aoki. Then Aoki squared to bunt.

Asked afterward why the team didn't force Rodney to prove he could throw a strike before gifting him an out, Yost appeared comfortable with the play. The goal of the at-bat was for Aoki to advance the runner, not to reach base, he explained.

"I want Nori to get the bunt down," Yost said. "Because I want to take a shot at tying it. My 'pen was strong enough where I felt like I could go ahead and go for the tie. Some nights you don't. Some nights you play for the win."

But the lack of production earlier in the night altered his approach. He hoped the core of his lineup could deliver. "Once you get the bunt down, you've got your No. 2, 3, 4 guys coming up, your run producers, to take a shot at it," he said.

Except the group disappointed. After Hosmer accepted a walk, Rodney whiffed Butler with a changeup. In San Diego, Butler worried a three-game layoff would stunt his momentum. His fears came true on Friday: He went 0-for-4 with a double-play ball and two strikeouts.

"My timing was off," Butler said. "I didn't feel really well. I didn't see the ball worth a crap tonight."

When Salvador Perez tapped a grounder, the game was over. The power outage dashed a useful effort from Duffy (1-3, 1.96 ERA), the newest addition to the rotation. Duffy survived six innings and allowed just one run. That tally was decisive.

Duffy is not slated to start again until May 17. For now, Yost intends to shuffle him back into the bullpen. Bruce Chen is currently rehabilitating from a bulging disc in his lower back, and general manager Dayton Moore sounded pessimistic about Chen returning by then.

Even when Chen leaves the disabled list, it is unclear if he is a better option than Duffy, the erratic but capable 25-year-old lefty. In his last three starts, opposing offenses pounded 15 runs off Chen in 13 innings. During his two-start audition, Duffy allowed two runs in 10 frames.

"The first one, I was pretty erratic with my command," Duffy said. "But this one, I felt pretty good about."

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