KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Brad Keller tossed seven strong innings and rookie Vinnie Pasquantino homered and drove in a pair of runs as the Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 3-1 Monday in the opener of a split doubleheader.
Injured Royals infielder Whit Merrifield didn’t play, ending his consecutive games streak at a franchise-record 553 — it dated to June 24, 2018, and was the longest active string in the majors.
“It’s been a great run for Whit,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s just been impressive the way he’s been able to go about it.”
Merrifield exited Sunday’s game with right toe discomfort. He was fitted with a walking boot and is expected to be placed on the injured list due to a bone bruise and ligament swelling.
“I’ve been lucky … in some instances, but I’ve put myself in a good position to play every day mentality-wise. I showed up to play no matter the circumstance. It’s been a long run and I’m proud of it,” he said.
Keller (5-9) permitted only three singles while fanning eight. He has won three straight starts and four of his last five.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Keller said. “I had good command with my fastball and my slider. I tried to run with it as long as I could. Whenever you get a good feel for the fastball you can go after guys, especially on a hot day like today. I didn’t want the defense to stand out there too long. Obviously, strike one was really important today.”
Said Matheny: “That’s two times these guys have seen him and he was really sharp and aggressive.”
“We talk about it all the time. It’s pitching with aggressiveness, trusting the fact that his stuff is better than average. His changeup was good at times. His slider was good to get swings and misses. He needs days like this,” he said.
Scott Barlow earned his 14th save with a scoreless ninth.
Pasquantino lined the first pitch from Michael Pineda (2-4) into the right-field bullpen with two outs in the fourth to open the scoring. It was his second career homer, both against Pineda, and both on the first pitch in the fourth inning.
“I saw the ball pretty well today,” the Royals first baseman said. “On my first at-bat I wish I would have swung at that outside fastball. It was too close to take. The second at-bat I saw it pretty good and was able to get a good swing on it.”
Pineda said he “tried to execute my fastball and he got it.”
“This is one of the pitches I missed today. I tried to locate my fastball a little more away because I know he wanted to swing,” he said.
Pasquantino broke a 1-all tie with a sixth-inning single that drove in fellow rookie Bobby Witt Jr., who had two hits and stole two bases.
“I was really happy with being able to stay on it and go the other way,” Pasquantino said. “It’s something I’ve been working on. I finally did it and I’m happy about that. My approach was what I wanted it to be.”
Matheny liked what he saw.
“He put up so many RBIs in Triple-A and all through the minor leagues,” Matheny said. “It’s not a fluke. There are certain guys who thrive when they get guys on base. He got a man in scoring position and he used the (whole) field to bring him in. That’s how big innings happen and that’s how you come through in those situations, not trying to do too much.”
Pineda worked into the sixth inning for only the second time in eight starts, allowing seven hits and three runs.
“I want to say I threw the ball good today,” Pineda said. “I know I could be better. I missed a couple of pitches.”
Riley Greene had two of Detroit’s four singles and scored their lone run in the sixth on Keller’s two-out wild pitch.
“(Keller) was cutting it pretty good,” Greene said. “His pitches were working today. He was throwing all three pitches for strikes, throwing the curveball and slider pretty good. He was throwing pitches that were hard to hit.”
Monday’s doubleheader was the Tigers’ sixth of the season, second most in the majors behind Cleveland’s seven.
Royals LHP Daniel Lynch was reinstated from the injured list to start the second game. LHP Foster Griffin was designated for assignment.
RHP Beau Brieske (2-6, 4.16 ERA) takes the mound for Detroit on Tuesday against LHP Kris Bubic (1-6, 6.84).