KANSAS CITY -- In the Royals' first 25 games this season, their starter pitched into the seventh inning just six times.
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."
Frenchy shows off one of game's best arms
KANSAS CITY -- It seemed a fitting comment about a guy called "Frenchy."
"I got a text from a friend of mine after the game that said Jeff [Francoeur] has thrown out more people than a Bourbon Street bouncer," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "That's kind of true."
Francoeur's sixth-inning throw nailed the Yankees' Curtis Granderson trying for third base after Francoeur caught Alex Rodriguez's fly ball in right field. The throw was snagged by third baseman Mike Moustakas, who made the quick tag. The double play took the steam out of the Yankees in the Royals' 5-1 victory Saturday.
"It was a big throw at a big time, obviously," Francoeur said. "I had to make a perfect throw, and he's a fast, smart baserunner. He took a chance. I don't make that throw all the time but I happened to make the throw at that time, and it ended up being a big out for us."
Yost didn't see the throw because he was busy in the dugout, preparing to take starting pitcher Felipe Paulino out of the game.
"With [Robinson] Cano coming up, I was coming around to go up and take Paulino out of the game, and I got on the top step and saw Moose tag him and I thought, 'Geez-oh-Pete,'" Yost said. "That didn't even enter my mind that Frenchy was going to throw him out. So it was a pretty darn good throw -- they tell me."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi figured Granderson was just trying to get something started with his risky dash.
"Sometimes when an offense is struggling, you try to get in a situation where you can score," Girardi said. "You've got a guy as good as anyone out there, and he got behind the ball and you can't be thrown out."
Paulino got a reprieve and, after Cano singled, Francoeur made an encore with a sliding catch of Mark Teixeira's liner to end the inning and preserve the Royals' 3-0 lead.
Francoeur has five assists this season and 102 in his career since 2005, tops in baseball over that span. He might make quite a bouncer at that.
"I've been to New Orleans," Frenchy said with a smile. "I've tried to stay away from Bourbon Street."
Coleman optioned to Triple-A Omaha
KANSAS CITY -- There was little surprise when right-hander Louis Coleman was the odd pitcher out on Saturday as the Royals activated Felipe Paulino to start against the Yankees. Coleman was optioned to Triple-A Omaha.
Coleman had not been especially effective in six outings before Friday night, when he turned in 1 2/3 scoreless innings late in a 6-2 loss to the Yankees.
"Coleman has found something in his delivery, and last night was the best he's thrown since he's been here," manager Ned Yost said. "But he's more of a situational right-handed pitcher. By that, I mean we like him when they bunch up righties. His command has got to be better to face lefties, and right now, it's not polished enough to get lefties out."
Among the other right-handers in the bullpen, Yost wanted to keep Nate Adcock and Luis Mendoza as long men, and Jonathan Broxton is the closer.
"Right now, [Kelvin] Herrera is very valuable to us, because he can get lefties out with this changeup and he throws 100 mph. [Aaron] Crow, of course, is our All-Star," Yost added.
Coleman returned to Omaha with a 4.15 ERA in seven games. He gave up eight hits, four walks and four runs in 8 2/3 innings.
Holland aiming to return to Royals next week
KANSAS CITY -- Greg Holland is gearing up to return to the Royals' bullpen late next week. He's due to make injury rehabilitation appearances on Tuesday and Thursday for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and might be back after that.
Holland, out since April 21 with a rib injury, threw in batting practice with game situations on Saturday.
"He looked really good," manager Ned Yost said. "He had good life on his pitches. His command was off a little bit, but he had good velocity, good action on his breaking stuff. He threw 25 pitches with no after-effects."
Mendoza slides out of rotation to be long man
KANSAS CITY -- After making four starts, Luis Mendoza has yielded his spot in the Royals' rotation to Felipe Paulino, who returned from the disabled list to start against the Yankees on Saturday night.
"Yeah, but my time is going to come again," Mendoza said. "My job right now is to try to help the team in any way I can, in any role. I hope for the starters to stay six or seven innings. I don't want to be [in the game] early, but when my time comes to pitch, I just want to do my job."
Mendoza's four starts were, as he put it, "up and down." He went 5 1/3 innings against the A's in a 1-0 loss. But then he was belted for nine runs in four innings of a 13-7 loss to the Indians and lasted just 3 1/3 innings in a 9-5 loss to the Blue Jays. In his last start, however, he got the victory for five innings of work in a 4-2 win over the Indians.
"The last start I felt pretty good, so I just want to gain that confidence again on the big league level," he said. "I'll try to regain that confidence I had in Triple-A every time I pitched."
Last year, Mendoza was the Pacific Coast League's Pitcher of the Year, and in Spring Training, he led all Major League pitchers with a 0.47 ERA and was one of just four pitchers with a 4-0 record.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.