KANSAS CITY - A light rain began to fall at Kauffman Stadium on Friday night as the bottom of the sixth inning got underway.
But the deluge had already transpired.
The Royals (20-37) poured runs on Bruce Zimmermann in the lefty’s most dismal outing in what has been a string of them. Zimmermann (2-5) allowed a career-high seven runs on 10 hits in just 4 2/3innings in an 8-1 loss in Kansas City.
The Orioles (24-35) have dropped the first two games of their four-game series, surrendering 15 runs in 18 innings.
Zimmermann’s rough night stood in stark contrast to that of Royals starter Jonathan Heasley (1-3), who allowed just one hit - an Anthony Santander single in the first inning - and no walks to go with seven strikeouts over seven innings of scoreless baseball.
"I thought we took some good at-bats first inning to two but then not much after that," manager Brandon Hyde said after the game. "I thought he had a good fastball and a good breaking ball, we knew that coming in. But we just didn’t take very many good at-bats off him."
Santander provided the only Orioles run of the night on a solo homer just over the right field wall in the ninth inning, well after the game had been decided.
The struggles started immediately for Zimmermann, who allowed back-to-back doubles to Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi to open the home half of the first. Four pitches in, it was a 1-0 game. Two batters later it was 3-0 after Salvador Perez sent an 85.7 mph changeup into the batter’s eye in center field.
"The first inning, definitely the ball was a little bit up, was kind of feeling for my mechanics on the mound a little bit, more than I would like to. After that I thought we did a good job of keeping the ball down, getting some weak contact."
The night was just getting started, both for Zimmermann and for Perez.
The Royals catcher drove in another run in the third inning, again off a changeup. The pitch that was so dominant for Zimmermann through the first month of the season was suddenly a liability.
In 76 pitches, Zimmermann got just six swinging strikes. None were changeups.
“Well, I know that teams have probably scouting reports out (that say) that’s my go-to secondary pitch," Zimmermann said. "So part of our attack plan was to go to some of the other off-speed pitches, the breaking balls a little bit more, and kind of reserve that changeup for spots it would be a little bit more effective. More so trying to use it more strategically now that the teams know it’s going to be thrown a lot.”
"He’s learning to pitch up here," said Hyde. "He had a good first month, month and a half. He’s had a handful of rough starts and he’s gotta bounce back and locate a little bit better and understand that people watch your video and people prepare for you and you gotta make better pitches to give your team a chance."
The Royals generated more hard contact in the fifth, when singles by Benintendi and Bobby Witt Jr. set the table for MJ Melendez. The right fielder took a mighty hack on the first pitch he saw: a middle-cut slider.
It resulted in a 108-mph two-run home run that had the same effect as a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes: 7-0 Kansas City.
“Melendez had seen a lot of sliders that night and I kind of left that one in the middle of the plate,” Zimmermann said. “Just have to make better pitches in those counts when those guys have guys on.”
"Just really hung a bad slider to Melendez there," said Hyde. "Left-on-left slider just catching too much of the plate."
You can be forgiven if you didn’t know Jonathan Heasley’s name coming into the game, which was just the ninth career start for the 25-year-old. Helped by some outstanding defense behind him, the righty flummoxed an O’s offense that had scored 14 runs over the past two games.
After his eye-opening performance Friday, Heasley’s ERA dropped a full run, going from 4.62 to 3.62 in a single night.
It wasn’t until the eighth inning, after Royals manager Mike Matheny removed Heasley, that the Orioles threatened to score. They loaded the bases with two outs for the hot-hitting Trey Mancini, who grounded into a force out at third.
Austin Voth made his Orioles debut in relief of Zimmermann, surrendering one run - a solo homer from his former Nationals teammate Michael A. Taylor and striking out two in 1 1/3 innings.
The Orioles will send Tyler Wells to the mound Saturday afternoon in hopes of picking up their first win of the series.
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