KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jason Hammel had been having trouble attacking the strike zone this season, the constant nibbling at the corners leading to an abundance of walks and nearly as many runs.
The Royals’ right-hander certainly attacked the zone on Saturday.
Got after the Cleveland Indians, too.
After serving up a pair of homers in the second inning, Hammel only allowed two more hits while pitching into the seventh. And backed by a six-run fifth inning highlighted by Lorenzo Cain’s two-run home run, Kansas City went on to trounce its AL Central rival 12-5 and ensure a series victory.
“He kept getting better and better. His pitches kept sharper and sharper,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We just ask you to keep us in the game and that’s what he did.”
Whit Merrifield and Mike Moustakas had two-run doubles off Carlos Carrasco (5-3) during the Royals’ big inning, and a five-run seventh inning helped them score their most runs all season.
“Once we kind of got rolling, it was nice to pour it on like that,” said Merrifield, who extended his hitting streak to a career-best and Major League-leading 18 games. “Against a team like that you can never have enough runs.”
Hammel (2-6) gave up homers to Carlos Santana and Bradley Zimmer in the third, but he retired 15 of his next 17 batters before giving way to Mike Minor with two outs in the seventh.
Hammel struck out seven without a walk for his first win since beating Cleveland on May 5.
“Stayed in the strike zone with quality pitches,” said Hammel, who had walked at least one batter in every game this season. “A lot of fly balls today but overall a much better job.”
Carrasco only allowed a lone single before Jorge Bonifacio and Brandon Moss led off the fifth with base hits, and Merrifield followed with a sharply hit double. Carrasco then walked Alex Gordon and, two batters later, served up a pitch that Moustakas swatted down the right-field line.
Nick Goody relieved Carrasco, who was charged with five runs and five hits with two walks, and he promptly threw a pitch at the letters that Cain dumped into the fountains in left field.
The six-run inning matched the best by the Royals this season.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Carrasco said, “but get ready for the next start.”
The Royals tacked on five more runs in the seventh against the best bullpen in the big leagues, a relief crew that entered the game with a 2.17 ERA. They were helped along by a pair of errors — only one run that inning was earned — as Kansas City put the game away.
“We didn’t do anything good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Get a little bit of rest and come back tomorrow and play a lot better because that wasn’t close to good enough.”
Indians INF/OF Lonnie Chisenhall was cleared to return to games after dealing with the effects of a concussion. He was starting in right field for Double-A Akron on Saturday.
SEE YA, SOLER
The Royals optioned struggling OF Jorge Soler to Triple-A Omaha and recalled speedy OF Billy Burns before the game. Soler was acquired from the Cubs in the offseason for All-Star closer Wade Davis.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ACE
Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic this year, would have been 26 on Saturday. His presence is still felt by many in the organization.
“I’m generally the first one here. The clubhouse is pitch-black,” Yost said, “so I’ll go over and turn on the lights, and I’ll walk around the clubhouse. I always kind of stop at his locker for a second and just look at the pictures. … We’re all reminded of him every single day.”
Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer follows his dominant effort against Oakland in the series finale Sunday. Bauer struck out a career-high 14 in seven innings against the A’s last week.
Royals: LHP Eric Skoglund tries to follow a dazzling big league debut Sunday. The 24-year-old gave up three hits over 6 1/3 innings in a 1-0 victory over the Tigers last week.