Jakob Junis' return to the Kansas City Royals' starting pitching rotation got swallowed up by the fact that the bullpen, maybe their most dependable unit through the early stage of the season, appeared to run low on gas in the 10th game of this short 2020 campaign.
Bullpen stalwarts Scott Barlow and Greg Holland weren't able to protect a tie as the White Sox roared to a seven-run seventh inning on their way to a 9-2 win and three-game sweep of the series at Kauffman Stadium Sunday afternoon.
"They had a couple bloops really that kind of got Barlow into a bad spot," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "Then he gets into the 20s in his pitch count in the second inning. We were just hoping we could get Greg to make a couple things happen. We get, unfortunately, some ground balls hit in spots we were not."
Alex Gordon hit his first home run of the season, Salvador Perez went 2 for 4 and Nicky Lopez smacked an RBI double.
Catcher Cam Gallagher started his first game. The Royals (3-7) activated Gallagher and designated catcher Óscar Hernández for assignment earlier in the day. Perez started at first base.
The White Sox (5-4) jumped in front for good in the seventh, starting with a one-out RBI single by Jose Abreu. Barlow gave up two hits to start the inning. Holland got the first out of the inning before giving up hits to Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Nicky Delmonico that drove in three runs.
Right-hander Glenn Sparkman eventually got the final out. When the dust cleared, Barlow had given up two runs, Holland four (two earned) and Sparkman one unearned run.
The Royals committed two errors in the game, totaling eight in their three-game series with Chicago.
Junis pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits and two walks. He also struck out two. The second run charged to him scored after he'd left the game, as reliever Tyler Zuber walked three batters to force in a run.
"I thought he looked good," Matheny said of Junis. "Obviously, the slider was good right out of the gate -- the very first hitter. They established it really well. I thought he had good life on the sinker, too. They seemed to be working hand and hand really well. He had a couple strange plays to get us out of binds."
The start marked Junis' first in more than 300 days. Last season, the Royals shut down Junis in September due to an innings cap. His previous regular-season starts came on Sept. 15, 2019 against the Houston Astros -- 322 days ago.
Junis got a late start to spring training 2.0 because he tested positive for COVID-19. While he did pitch in the summer camp at Kauffman Stadium, the club announced before the end of camp that he would begin the season on the injured list and continue to build up in his throwing progression.
He'd been working out with the rest of the Royals' 60-man player pool at the team's alternate training site, T-Bones Stadium in Kansas City, Kan.
Junis looked strong early. He said Saturday that his increased stamina was the biggest sign he was ready to return. On Sunday, he kept a good pace and worked fairly quickly. He didn't need to step off the rubber for any noticeably long pauses.
Even when Eloy Jimenez lined a shot off Junis' right foot in the second inning, Junis seemed undeterred. His first reaction was to turn and direct third baseman Maikel Franco, who caught the ball on the fly, to throw to first base and double off the runner, then to turn back to the umpire in the middle of the diamond and make sure he recognized the ball hadn't hit the ground.
"Looking back on it, it was pretty dumb, honestly," Junis said of kicking his foot out to deflect the ball. "The shift was working perfectly right where he hit it. It was just one of those things where I reacted. I don't know if I've ever reacted by putting my foot out like that, but I kicked it up perfectly.
"We got the double play out of it. Pretty cool play, all in all, but not the smartest one."
Gordon's 437-foot blast that landed just in front of the fountains in right center field gave the Royals a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second.
The White Sox pushed a run across in the fourth thanks to a double by Abreu followed by an RBI single by one of the White Sox' prized offseason additions, Grandal. The White Sox had three consecutive hits to start the fourth, but a pair of grounders, including an inning-ending double-play ball, limited them to one run.
Junis recorded one out and gave up one hit in the fifth before exiting. Zuber walked Grandal on a questionable 3-2 pitch to force in the run and give the White Sox a 2-1 lead.
The Royals tied the score 2-2 in the bottom half of the inning on doubles from Franco and Nicky Lopez, who entered the game in the top of the fifth, replacing shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (quad contusion). Lopez's shot over a drawn-in infield and into the left-center field gap scored Franco.
But the White Sox broke open the game two innings later.
The Royals now travel to Chicago, where they'll play the Cubs at Wrigley Field Monday and Tuesday. The teams will then play at Kauffman Wednesday and Thursday.