Royals snap skid behind Bannister

Royals snap skid behind Bannister

ST. PETERSBURG -- One of Brian Bannister's main goals this season is working deeper into games. On Friday night, the young right-hander fulfilled that objective, going farther than any of his previous 12 Major League starts.

Mainly using his fastball, Bannister worked a career-high eight innings in a win, 4-1, over the Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. The victory was his first win as a Royal, and, more importantly ended KC's season-high seven-game losing streak.

"I want to put this in my back pocket and keep it in mind for future games," he said. "Just to get into the eighth inning has been a positive for me."

And it was certainly a plus for the Royals. Coupled with a three-run second inning off Scott Kazmir and Octavio Dotel's first save in a KC uniform, the Royals captured their first win in Tampa Bay since 2004 and earned their 20th victory of the season.

"It was a nice win for us," manager Buddy Bell said.

Bannister led the way with arguably the best start of any Royals' pitcher this season, permitting just one run on two hits and facing one batter over the minimum. His eight innings were tied for the most by a KC starter this season and was the longest a KC pitcher worked since Jorge De La Rosa's eight innings against the Twins on April 22.

"Banny should get all the credit for this game because he pitched and kept them in position from really doing any damage," Emil Brown said. "This is his day today."

In his last start, Bannister went a career-best seven innings against the Mariners. Six of those were shutout innings, but he was hurt by a Kenji Johjima grand slam and finished with a loss. On Friday, his location and command of his 88-92 mile per hour fastball squelched the Devil Rays' offense and kept the noise of Tampa's cowbell-ringing fans to a minimum.

"One of the reasons that I don't throw as hard as other guys is because my ball has a natural cut on it," he said. "I don't know if it is because of my arm or because I threw a lot of cutters in the past, but you see guys, they just miss it, so I get ground balls and fly balls and pop-ups to first. It just had a good cut on it tonight."

Not only did Bannister's fastball yield ground balls and weak pop-ups, it also produced a career-high six strikeouts, including three straight in the second inning. It marked the first time Bannister had ever struck out the side in his two-year Major League career.

"You won't see that high velocity, but you will see a lot of movement," he said.

Bannister faced the minimum through the first three innings before Greg Norton led off the fourth with a homer on a changeup that curled just inside the right field foul pole. The homer came on one of three changeups he threw all game.

"I didn't throw a lot of off-speed," he said. "I think we fooled them. I just really located my fastball tonight."

Bannister cruised the rest of the contest, spreading just 107 pitches over his 24 outs. He retired the last 12 hitters he faced, but was running on fumes after the eighth.

"He kept the ball down and kept it off the fat part of the bat," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought his command was really good. You run into a good pitching performance like that tonight and you just tip your cap."

Since his recall from Triple-A Omaha, Bannister has been the staff's most consistent starter, compiling a 3.46 ERA and two quality starts in his last four outings. Overall, his season mark stands at 3.89, and, along with Gil Meche, is one of just two KC starters with ERAs under 4.90.

"I have adapted to the hitters," he said. "I watch them and get a better feel for a Major League level and the Major League strike zone."

Offensively, Mike Sweeney, 0-for-15 in his last four games, started the second-inning rally with a triple down the right field line -- his fifth career three-bagger and first since Sept. 3, 2003. He scored on a wild pitch, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.

After that, the Royals used a walk, a stolen base, an error and two singles to take a 3-0 advantage. The three runs marked the same total KC tallied in their three-game series against the Orioles.

"We are facing one of the best left-handers in the league as far as stuff," Bell said. "We did a pretty nice job."

Bannister and Dotel held the lead. Dotel, seeing his first save opportunity as a Royal, walked the first two batters, but retired the side after a quick meeting from pitching coach Bob McClure.

"I am that type of guy that likes to feel that situation on me, nervous, but in control," Dotel said.

The closer eventually was in control, and, for eight innings, so was Bannister.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.