Royals pitchers stifle Blue Jays in two-hit shutout win
TORONTO (AP) — Jason Vargas turned in his best performance in months to pick up his third win in three starts.
Vargas and four relievers combined on a two-hitter, Melky Cabrera had three hits and the game’s only RBI, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 1-0 on Thursday night.
Vargas (17-10) struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings to win his third straight start. None of the three batters he walked advanced beyond first base.
“He definitely was lights out tonight,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
The Blue Jays, who were blanked for the seventh time, did not have a runner reach scoring position. Their two hits matched a season low.
“We didn’t hit a lick, that’s for sure,” manager John Gibbons said.
Vargas worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland on adjusting his mechanics after a five-start stretch from Aug. 8 until Sept. 5 in which he allowed 29 earned runs in 28 1/3 innings.
“He’s been really good from that point on,” Yost said. “He’s been downhill. He’s been changing speeds well.”
Vargas hadn’t had a scoreless outing since a complete-game shutout of Cleveland on June 2.
Gibbons said Vargas did a good job of keeping the Blue Jays off balance.
“He knows when to add and subtract on his pitches, can lull you to sleep away and then shoot that fastball in,” Gibbons said. “He got us a few times tonight doing that.”
Kendrys Morales hit a leadoff single in the second and was promptly erased on a double play, with Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar using his glove to flip the ball to second baseman Whit Merrifield.
“That’s why he’s got a gold patch on the back of his glove,” Vargas said of Escobar, a Gold Glove winner in 2015.
Darwin Barney had the only other hit off Vargas, a leadoff single in the fifth.
The Royals, who have 10 games remaining, remained 3 1/2 games behind Minnesota for the second AL wild card spot after the Twins beat Detroit 12-1. Los Angeles and Texas are both ahead of Kansas City.
“It’s a tough road ahead of us but I think we can do it,” reliever Mike Minor said.
Kansas City’s run came in the third against Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ (9-11). Alex Gordon walked with one out and advanced to second on a two-out single by Lorenzo Cain before Cabrera hit an RBI single to center.
The inning ended with Eric Hosmer at the plate when Cabrera was caught stealing. Cain broke for home as Cabrera got in a rundown, but first baseman Justin Smoak tagged Cabrera before Cain could cross home plate.
Happ allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings to lose for the first time in four September starts.
Vargas left after Morales grounded out to begin the seventh. Peter Moylan got one out and Ryan Buchter came on to retire pinch hitter Rob Refsnyder.
Joakim Soria pitched the eighth. Minor finished for his second career save
“Everybody who stepped out there did their job quite admirably,” Yost said.
Minor, who first save came in the Sept. 15 game that ended Cleveland’s 22-game winning streak, retired Toronto sluggers Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Jose Bautista.
Bautista struck out swinging to end the sixth. It was his 160th strikeout, breaking a tie with Jose Canseco (1988) and Kelly Johnson (2012) for the Blue Jays’ single season record.
Hosmer was called out to end the eighth when he accidentally kicked his own infield chopper into foul territory while running to first.
The Blue Jays are 14-23 against left-handed starters.
With their 82 loss, Toronto guaranteed its first losing record since going 74-88 in 2013.
Kansas City grounded into two double plays. The Royals have hit into an ML-leading 147 double plays this season, two more than Toronto.
Royals: RHP Jason Hammel (8-12, 5.05) starts the opener of a three-game road series against the Chicago White Sox. Hammel is 4-6 with a 5.14 ERA on the road this season. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (2-3, 4.84) starts for the White Sox.
Blue Jays: RHP Marco Estrada (9-8, 4.84) starts the opener of Toronto’s final home series, a three-game set against the New York Yankees. Estrada, who is 5-1 with a 3.75 ERA in his past 10 starts, signed a $13 million deal Wednesday to stay with Toronto in 2018. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (12-11, 4.73) starts for New York.