OAKLAND — On a night the Royals needed a deep and quality start, Mike Minor delivered.
The veteran left-hander dazzled in seven innings against the A’s on Thursday night, allowing just one run and striking out eight in Kansas City’s 6-1 win at Oakland Coliseum, snapping a five-game losing streak and opening the four-game set with a victory.
“We talk about having a stopper,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Having one of those starters that comes in and gives us a solid outing. And that was as good as we could ask for.”
The Royals flipped the script from what happened earlier this week, when they were swept by the Angels. Their starter went deep, saving the bullpen — which covered 14 innings across three games in Anaheim — and their offense erupted for six runs after scoring five total in their trio of losses in Southern California.
After allowing three home runs in a back-and-forth game against the Twins last week, Minor had everything working Thursday night and limited the damage to just one homer — Jed Lowrie’s solo shot in the fourth on an inside curveball. Other than that, Minor kept the A’s off-balance with his fastball (12 whiffs and nine called strikes), which he established high in the zone early. Then he worked in his changeup, curveball and slider, all of which kept the A’s offense guessing for much of the night.
“They’re a good hitting team, and they hammer balls down,” Minor said. “So that’s what we saw and tried to expose it. I felt like the swings that they were taking were late or they were looking for other things.”
The last time Minor pitched at least seven innings with eight strikeouts was Sept. 14, 2020 — as a member of the A’s. It was shortly after he was traded to Oakland last season at the Trade Deadline, so he knew his opponent well when he took the mound Thursday.
“You respect all the guys, but it’s competition,” Minor said. “They have a thing over there where you just feel welcomed right away. You feel like a part of the team. I was only there for a month or whatever it was, but I felt like I got to know those guys pretty quickly, and they accept everybody no matter what your personality is or who you are. So it’s pretty special over there, a pretty special group. It was more just a respect thing.
“I was fired up for the game. I was comfortable with everything, the environment and being here and knowing the guys, but it’s competition.”
Minor kept the A’s at bay while the Royals worked their way through a battle with starter Frankie Montas. After the hard-throwing righty retired 13 straight, the Royals were able to get on the board with a few lucky hops and hard-hit balls in the seventh.
Andrew Benintendi singled to lead off the frame, and after Jorge Soler’s sixth time reaching base on a catcher’s interference this season, Hunter Dozier doubled on a 101 mph grounder past third base and Kelvin Gutierrez singled to give the Royals their first lead in 46 innings (since Saturday against Minnesota).
Once the Royals took the lead with situational hitting — another aspect that was hard to come by in Anaheim, when they left 22 on base — they tacked on an inning later.
Benintendi crushed his seventh homer of the year, winning a left-on-left battle with Jesús Luzardo, before Soler demolished a changeup two batters later for his 100th career homer.
“The thing that I like about that swing, and I hope Jorge watches it 1,000 times: He didn’t try to do too much,” Matheny said. “It wasn’t an over-aggressive swing. It was just trusting his hands, trusting his swing path and trusting his strength. And that’s one that I hope to see often.”
The Royals’ record has been a rollercoaster this year. They jumped out to a 16-9 start through the first month of the season. Then they lost 11 games in a row before turning that around with a 13-6 stretch, and entered this Oakland series having dropped five in a row.
What would help curb the streakiness is consistency from their starters, especially a veteran like Minor, who was signed to eat innings for the Royals this year. Consistency from the offense, especially a slugger like Soler, who is hitting just .179 with six homers in the middle of the lineup, would also go a long way.
“I guess there might have been some more emphasis on ending the losing streak and getting back on track,” Minor said. “We’re playing a good team, so I was focused out there. I knew the guys, knew their tendencies and tried to mix it up and pitch around them.”