TORONTO — Double-A callup Angel Zerpa pitched five innings to win for the first time as a big league starter, Bobby Witt Jr. hit a tiebreaking home run and the depleted Kansas City Royals overcame the absence of 10 unvaccinated players to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-1 Thursday.
Fellow callup Nate Eaton hit his first career homer as the Royals won for the fifth time in six games.
Foreign nationals who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 are not allowed to enter Canada, save for limited exceptions that require a 14-day quarantine. Unvaccinated baseball players are placed on the restricted list, which means they are not paid and do not accrue major league service time.
Among the 10 players on Kansas City’s 26-man roster who stayed home were All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi, two-time All-Star Whit Merrifield, future cornerstones Kyle Isbel and MJ Melendez and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
Also barred were first baseman Hunter Dozier, right-handed starters Brad Keller and Brady Singer, reliever Dylan Coleman and backup catcher Cam Gallagher.
“We just abide by the rules that are given to us,” manager Mike Matheny said before the game. “It’s not how we’d design it but it is where we are and now we move forward.”
The Royals recalled infielder Nick Pratto and selected Eaton, infielder Michael Massey, catcher Freddy Fermin and outfielder Brewer Hicklen from Triple-A Omaha. Infielder Maikel Garcia, catcher Sebastian Rivero and left-hander Zerpa were recalled from Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Pratto was in the starting lineup at first base and Eaton was in center field with Rivero catching Zerpa (2-0), who allowed one run and four hits, walked two and struck out two.
Jackson Kowar pitched two innings, Taylor Clarke handled the eighth and Scott Barlow finished for his 16th save in 18 chances.
Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman (6-7) started for the first time since taking a line drive off his ankle in a July 2 start against Tampa Bay. Gausman allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out six.
Nicky Lopez doubled off Gausman to begin the fifth and scored on a base hit by Edward Olivares, who was thrown out trying for a double. Witt followed with his 13th home run.
Toronto’s Matt Chapman homered off Zerpa in the bottom half, his 14th, but Eaton restored the two-run cushion by connecting off Anthony Banda in the ninth.
Zerpa earned his first career victory with two scoreless innings of relief against Detroit in Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader.
Keller, who started Monday, can be replaced Friday. Singer, who last pitched Wednesday, can be replaced for Sunday’s series finale.
Royals Pitching coach Cal Eldred, assistant hitting coach Keoni De Renne and bullpen catcher Parker Morin also did not travel. Triple-A Omaha manager Scott Thorman was brought along to assist Matheny’s staff.
Olivares, one of Kansas City’s remaining regulars, didn’t get the Royals off to a positive start. After opening the game with a single, he broke for second but lost sight of Witt’s liner to right, turned for third and was doubled off first by 120 feet. Olivares was later thrown out trying to steal second, then thrown out trying to stretch out a double. Hicklen ran for Olivares after he singled in the eighth, but got caught in a rundown between second and third.
Blue Jays: LHP Yusei Kikcuhi (neck) will throw a second bullpen session Friday. Kikuchi has been out since July 6.
Royals RHP Zack Grienke (3-5, 4.52) starts Friday against Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah (9-4, 2.34). Manoah is 2-0 in two career starts against the Royals, covering 13 scoreless innings.
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