Rookie left-hander Angel Zerpa looked poised to turn in another strong start and give the Kansas City Royals a chance for a fourth straight win and clinch back-to-back series wins coming out of the MLB All-Star break.
Then in a matter of moments, Zerpa went from having to work out of a jam to leaving the game early with a knee injury, and things went sideways for the Royals shortly thereafter.
Zerpa left the game with what the Royals termed “right knee discomfort” without having recorded an out in the fifth inning, and the Los Angeles Angels pounced and scored five runs after Zerpa left the game (including one charged to Zerpa) as the Royals fell 6-0 in front of an announced 20,834 in the second game of a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.
The loss for the Royals (39-58) evened the series and set up a rubber match on Wednesday afternoon between the teams.
Zerpa (2-1) finished having allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits, including one home run, and one walk in four innings.
Zerpa, speaking in Spanish with assistant strength and conditioning coach Luis Perez interpreting, said in the clubhouse after the game that his knee felt “much better” after receiving treatment from the medical staff. Initially, he felt pain in the knee after coming off the mound to field a bunt.
“When I covered first base, when I went down, I felt a little bit of a crack in my knee,” Zerpa said.
Zerpa, who made just two previous appearances (one start) in the majors this season, had a strong outing for the Royals in Toronto just before the All-Star break. He got the lone win in the Royals’ four-game series north of the border.
Before the injury on Tuesday night, Zerpa had put together another solid performance.
“He looked great,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Zerpa. “I love watching him pitch, his style of pitching, his pace. He felt something in the knee, so they’re going to get a closer look. But it didn’t feel good. You could tell something was going on there. We’ll get some more pictures and find out.
“That’s both of those starts now, just making quality pitches with everything he had and mixing it up. It’s just a shame. Hopefully, we get good news.”
The Angels (41-56) scored the game’s first run on Shohei Ohtani’s 21st home run of the season, a 420-foot blast to straight away center field with one out in the third inning.
That had been the only blemish on Zerpa’s outing through four innings.
Zerpa ran into trouble in the fifth inning after Phil Gosselin hit a leadoff single on which Andrew Benintendi made a diving attempt to catch in left-center field.
The next batter, Magneuris Sierra, bunted for a single. Zerpa was forced to field the well-placed bunt between the mound and the foul line.
Zerpa tried to grab the ball with his glove and shovel it to first base all in one motion, but he was not in time to get the out. His errant throw allowed the lead runner to advance all the way to third base.
Zerpa then threw two pitches and made two pickoff attempts with the next batter at the plate, before pitching coach Cal Eldred came to the mound and then motioned to the dugout for the trainer.
Zerpa’s outing ended with a 2-0 count and two men on with no outs in the fifth inning. The Royals trailed 1-0. Zerpa finished having allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits, including one home run, and one walk in four innings.
“I was feeling strong, the game was going well until it happened,” Zerpa said.
Angels get into the bullpen
The Angels’ second run scored on a wild pitch with left-handed reliever Amir Garrett on the mound and two outs. Garrett retired the batter at the plate with the 2-0 count and got a fly ball to shallow center field to nearly strand both runners.
The runner that eventually scored on the wild pitch was the one that had advanced to third on Zerpa’s throwing error.
Royals reliever Wyatt Mills tossed a scoreless frame in the sixth inning, but the Angels found success against the right-hander when the Royals tried to get another inning out of him.
Mills, who threw just 10 pitches in the sixth inning, gave up three runs in the seventh inning as the Angels carved out a 5-0 lead.
They tacked on a run in the ninth on a solo home run by Max Stassi off Royals reliever Joel Payamps.
Rough night for Royals bats
The Royals had just five hits in the game. They were shutout for the 11th time this season.
“I feel like we’ve been able to come through in those (big) situations, just put good at-bats together,” the Royals’ Hunter Dozier said. “Tonight was just one of the nights where we couldn’t find a way to get any across. But we’ll go out tomorrow and try to win the series.”
Angels starting pitcher Jose Suarez (2-4) pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed three hits and one walk.
The Royals’ best scoring chance came in the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with one out when Whit Merrifield reached on a fielder’s choice and Andrew Benintendi and MJ Melendez hit back-to-back singles.
The Angels brought in reliever Jose Quijada, who got Dozier to hit a grounder that allowed the Angels to get a force-out at home plate, and then Vinnie Pasquantino hit an inning-ending fly ball.
“That’s a big point in the game,” Dozier said. “That guy is tough. He’s a good pitcher. He has a good fastball at the top of the zone. I just couldn’t get it done, unfortunately. That was a big spot though, I wish I could’ve got some guys in.”