Royal Returns, Yanks Top KC

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Juan Soto made his return to the lineup and the Yankees continued to get great pitching from someone who has made this entire season a triumphant return.

With Luis Gil capturing the early season headlines and Gerrit Cole having not thrown a pitch so far this season, left hander Carlos Rodon has quietly thrust himself into the AL Cy Young conversation.

Rodon (9-2) continued his resurgent 2024 season with seven strong innings as the Yankees opened their seven game road trip with a 4-2 win over the Royals at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. The Yankee lefthander won his 7th straight decision as he gave up one run on five hits with no walks and three strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 2.93.

Defensively, they [Yankee teammates] had my back, offensively they had my back,” Rodon said. “Trevy [Trevino] and I just went and just pitched and let everything else happen.”

It was fitting that Rodon was dominant at a place where he was embarrassed last season. In the final outing of his disastrous 2023 campaign at Kauffman Stadium, Rodon faced only 8 Royals’ batters (6 hits, 2 walks) and they all scored in what was likely the worst outing of his career.

It’s hard to get that one out of your head,” Rodon said. “It wasn’t just one start, it was the culmination of the whole ‘23 season wasn’t so great so that definitely motivated me.”

Soto, who was the DH for the first time this season, made an immediate impact as the Yankees gave Rodon a lead before he threw his first pitch.

After Anthony Volpe grounded out agaInst Royals starter and former Met Seth Lugo, Soto lined a single to center to get the rally started. Gleyber Torres, who was hitting third, singled to put runners on first and second. Alex Verdugo then lined a single off the glove of Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr to score Soto with the first run as Torres took third.

Six pitch knock to start it off, then worked a walk again. Good, certainly obviously to get him [Soto] back in there. Hopefully, onward and upward from here,” Yankee Manager Aaron Boone said.

Soto was antsy to get back in the lineup after missing the three game series against the Dodgers. “Feels pretty good. I know it’s DH’ing but get the feeling of seeing a couple of pitches out there, take some hacks, it felt very good,” he said.

Soto would like to be back in right field before long. “I’ve been doing a lot of treatments, I’ve been feeling good, I’ve been seeing a lot of improvement,” he said. “Definitely, it’s not gonna go away that quick so we keep working on it. We’re gonna keep doing a couple of things for the next week and see how it goes after that.”

The Yankees have played some small ball and they used that approach to score a second run. D.J. LeMahieu executed a successful safety squeeze bunt to score Torres as the Yankees gave Rodon a 2-0 lead.

The Yankees have employed a dose of small ball this season and it has paid off in some of their wins. “I think it’s just trying to make sure we’re doing all we can to be a complete team,” Boone said. “Not that I expect us to be a team that’s bunting a lot or even stealing bases a lot. It’s not necessarily our personnel but we have guys that can play that game.”

In the fourth, the Yankees extended the lead. With one out, LeMahieu singled and Sunday’s hero, Trent Grisham was hit by a pitch. Jahmai Jones, who was in the lineup because Aaron Judge got his first day off this season, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third. With two out, Jose Trevino, who has been clutch this season, singled in two more runs to make it a 4-0 against Lugo who came into the game sporting a 9-1 record and a 2.13 ERA.

I just thought up and down the lineup, good approach, pressured him [Lugo], played a little bit of small ball and some timely hits,” Boone said.

Rodon faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings but ran into some trouble in the fifth. Nelson Velazquez and Nick Loftin stroked back to back singles but Rodon got Freddy Fermin to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. With a runner on third and two out, Rodon squashed the rally when he got M.J. Melendez to fly out to Verdugo in left.

Kansas City finally got to Rodon in the 7th when Fermin singled with two out to score Salvador Perez but the left hander finished strong when he retired Melendez on a ground out.

The Royals scored a run off of Ian Hamilton in the 8th to make it a two run game. With Perez at the plate as the tying run, Hamilton struck him out to limit the damage.

Boone, who tied Billy Martin for seventh on the franchise’s all time managerial wins list (556), wanted to stay away from Clay Holmes, who had pitched three out of the last four days, so he used Micheal Tonkin to pitch the ninth.

The right hander, who was DFA’d three times this season, walked Loftin with one out to bring the tying run to the plate but Tonkin retired Vinnie Pasquantino on a fly out to center and struck out Melendez. Trevino threw down to LeMahieu at first to give the 34-year old Tonkin his second Major League save.

Coming in, the Royals, who lost 106 games last season, were one of the pleasant surprises in baseball with a 39-27 record, but the Yankees were able to bounce back from an emotional series against the Dodgers to get the win. The Yankees (47-21) have won 10 of 13 and they improved to 15-1 vs. AL Central teams this season.

Boone, who is in his 7th season as Yankees Manager, was grateful to be alongside one of the most famous skippers in franchise history. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great players out there that have allowed me to win some games,” he said.

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