The Kansas City Royals ran into an old friend in Chicago and he didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat.
Former Royals pitcher and Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Alec Mills quieted the Royals bats for seven innings and set the tone for a low-scoring affair as the Royals lost the opener of the two-game set at Wrigley Field, 2-0, on Monday night.
The Royals (3-8) have now lost four in a row.
"We're trying to stack a couple hits on top of each other, and they're hard to come by right now," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's frustrating for the whole group because we know the type of potential that we have for our offense.
"When you get that kind of pitching, you make defensive plays, it just comes back to an offense we know has the potential to put up big numbers. It's just the consecutive hits. We're just having trouble getting multiple in an inning. ... We've got to get it changed. We've got to get it fixed."
Since scoring a season-high 14 runs and tying a franchise record with six home runs last Monday in Detroit, the Royals have scored 21 runs and batted .249 batting in their last seven games (six losses).
The Royals lone extra base hit came on a first-inning double by Ryan O'Hearn.
Mills, a right-hander, began his professional career in the Royals organization. Mills held the Royals scoreless through seven innings having allowed three hits (one infield single) and three walks. He got the Royals to strand five men on base in the first three innings, and he didn't give up a hit in his final 5 2/3 innings.
Mills was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2012. He made his MLB debut with the Royals on May 18, 2016, against the Boston Red Sox. The Cubs acquired Mills from the Royals on February 8, 2017, for minor league outfielder Donnie Dewees.
Left-hander Danny Duffy became the first Royals starting pitcher to complete six innings this season, and he allowed only one run on three hits and four walks. He struck out six and Cubs hitters went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position against him.
"That's exactly what we need from him in that situation," Matheny said of Duffy. "He was fantastic. It's a shame we can't scratch a couple runs for him."
But thanks to Mills handcuffing Royals batters, Duffy (0-2) took the loss despite turning in his best outing of the season.
"I felt like I threw the ball well," Duffy said. "The fifth inning hasn't been good to me lately. I lost a couple guys, the ball running on me. Overall, I feel like I threw the ball pretty well. Still got to be better. Still can't allow two walks in an inning. My command has been a lot better than that."
Duffy walked the first batter of the fifth, Nico Hoerner, on four pitches and then gave up a single to Ian Happ and another walk to Kris Bryant to load the bases with no outs in a 0-0 game. That prompted a mound visit by pitching coach Cal Eldred.
Prior to the fifth, Duffy had walked two and given up two hits. In his previous start in Detroit, Duffy went into the fifth inning with a three-run lead, but he gave up three runs including a two-run homer and left the game with the score tied after five innings.
Matheny allowed Duffy to work through trouble on Monday night despite having reliever Ian Kennedy warming in the bullpen. Duffy limited the damage to one run after having loaded the bases with no outs.
Duffy got a pop-up to shortstop, a Javier Báez sacrifice fly to right field and Cubs cleanup Willson Contreras hit a grounder to third to end the inning with the help of a nice scoop out of the dirt by first baseman O'Hearn on the throw across the diamond from Maikel Franco.
"Damage control is crucial in this game," Duffy said. "When you get yourself into a jam, if you can limit that damage like we were able to do in that fifth inning, it's a good thing obviously. They've got a dangerous lineup over there. We were able to limit it as much as we could."
After escaping the fifth inning with just a one-run deficit, Duffy came back out for the sixth and retired the side in order. He left the game having thrown 103 pitches (63 strikes) with the Royals trailing 1-0.
The Cubs (8-2) took a 2-0 lead on Kris Bryant's solo home run in the seventh off right-handed reliever Ian Kennedy, the third allowed by Kennedy in four appearances (5 1/3 innings).
Royals right-hander Josh Staumont pitched a scoreless inning out of the bullpen and struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth inning.