KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals manager Ned Yost weighed the options.
Give guys like Jorge Soler, who led the team with a .375 on-base percentage, a chance to set the tone for the game from the two-spot in the lineup or leave Whit Merrifield, whose 11 hits ranked second on the team, there instead. Continue with a lineup that through 10 games had averaged .188 with runners in scoring position and batted a combined .222, or shuffle it around.
Yost chose the latter on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, where the Los Angeles Angels arrived for a four-game series with two-way player Shohei Ohtani in the lineup for a second consecutive day.
“See if we can stack some more RBIs up there,” Yost said.
But the Royals weren’t able to in a 7-1 loss. Angels starting pitcher Nick Tropeano, making his first major-league start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016, held the Royals to six hits in 62/3 scoreless innings. The Royals stranded six baserunners in the first seven frames. They squeaked across their only run on Lucas Duda’s two-out RBI single off Angels reliever Jim Johnson in the eighth.
And Ohtani, the Japanese phenom who draws the sort of media contingent that eclipsed 100 Japanese reporters in each of two starts on the mound, delivered the hardest blow to the Royals’ chances in the seventh inning.
The left-handed hitter turned a 97-mph fastball from Brandon Maurer in on Ohtani’s hands into a wall-banging, two-out triple to right-center field that cleared the bases.
The three runs that scored on the hit, Ohtani’s first of the game, were charged to reliever Blaine Boyer, who three batters earlier had allowed a two-run single to Kole Calhoun.
Hours earlier, Yost expressed excitement to see what Ohtani could do. He’d heard umpire Jerry Davis tell Royals first-base coach Mitch Maier, “Wait til you see this guy. He’s something else.”
“He’s impressing a lot of people,” Yost said. “Could be interesting to see.”
But for six innings, there was nothing to see from Ohtani. In his first at-bat, Ohtani was caught looking at a fastball on the outer edge of the plate for one of Royals starter Ian Kennedy’s three strikeouts. In his second at-bat, Ohtani flew out to left field. The Royals took the bat out of his hands his next time up, choosing to pitch to Angels catcher Martin Maldonado with two outs and a runner on second base instead.
Kennedy, who recorded a quality start in his third straight outing, had rendered Ohtani useless.
He’d done much of the same with the rest of the Angels’ lineup after allowing Ian Kinsler to knock in the first run of the game on a leadoff homer in the first inning. Although Kennedy gave up seven hits, he stranded eight runners.
Kennedy, who has a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings this season, was charged with the loss — the Royals’ eighth in their first 11 games.
And Soler, who had struck out seven times in eight games, struck out four times on Thursday.
Alas, Yost’s lineup experiment did little to alter the Royals’ fortunes.