The starters have had too many early exits to suit manager Ned Yost.
"On the bright side, we've had three good starts in a row [prior to Saturday's game], but we still need to consistently get into the seventh inning," he said.
In the first two of those games, both victories, the starters were lifted because of what Yost termed "extenuating circumstances." Jonathan Sanchez was pulled after five shutout innings at Detroit because he was just getting over strep throat, and Danny Duffy left after 5 1/3 innings against the Yankees because he hadn't pitched in 11 days. Of course, their pitch counts (82 by Sanchez, 90 by Duffy) had something to do with it as well.
Bruce Chen got into the seventh inning on Friday night, had two outs and was looking so good that Yost was already thinking about making him the first starter to reach the eighth inning this year. But the roof caved in quickly, and Chen gave up four runs and took the loss.
Chen has gone into the seventh inning three times and lost all three games. Luke Hochevar went into the seventh twice and won both times. The other to reach the seventh was Danny Duffy in a loss.
It's interesting to note that, in the first inning this season, the Royals have given up a total of 24 runs -- the highest count against them in any inning.
"In the course of a game, sometimes it takes a pitcher, especially a good pitcher, to get into the flow of a game," Yost said. "That's why I knew last night when Bruce gave up two runs that our best opportunity to get CC [Sabathia] was going to be in the first inning. And when we did and tied the score, now Bruce has got to settle in and we've got to find some way to muster a run or two. And we just didn't do it."
In addition, through Friday, the Royals' record was 0-14 when the opponent scored first, and they had not won when trailing after six, seven or eight innings.
"It's a combination of a lot of different things and it's not just the pitching," Yost said. "If we can get on track offensively and put some runs on the board and give the pitchers a little bit of breathing room, that would help, too, which we have not done all year long. But so we can point fingers at the pitching all we want; the offense has a part of this, too."