Royals can't solve Wakefield in loss
Offense stymied by knuckleballer as Hochevar struggles
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals' Billy Butler is 20 years younger than Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, so he hasn't seen much of the ol' knuckleballer.
So when Butler got around to third base during Wednesday night's 8-2 loss to Wakefield, he talked a little shop with the Red Sox's Mike Lowell.
"I was talking to Lowell at third, and whenever Wakefield is on, it's just the nastiest pitch you've seen," Butler said. "And when it's off, he's average. As you can see, he hasn't been average this year."
Certainly not on this 84-degree evening at Kauffman Stadium, where 24,294 fans -- many of them backing the defending World Series champions -- saw Wakefield hold the Royals to just four singles in six innings.
Butler, 22, struck out in his first at-bat but started the Royals' two-run fifth with a single off Wakefield, 42. Alex Gordon also singled and, after one of Wakefield's knucklers bounced off catcher Kevin Cash's mitt, the runners moved up a base.
Ross Gload punched a 66-mph knuckler into left field to score both of them. It was Wakefield's only lapse.
What does his floating knuckleball do?
"That's exactly the thing -- you don't know what it's going to do," Butler said. "It'll go this way one time, that way one time. He doesn't know either when it's going that good."
Wakefield knew well enough, though, in this outing that he walked no one and struck out six. Because of the passed ball, only one run against him was earned.
"He was flat in the first inning only," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "From the second inning on, he had it going."
It was dancing.
"He changes speeds on it, and it can go from 62 to 70 [mph]," Butler said. "It's pretty much you swing at it here, and it ends up there. Sorry."
Meantime, Royals rookie Luke Hochevar was enduring some more two-out blues. Zipping right along in a scoreless game, he retired the first two batters in the fifth inning.
But Alex Cora singled, there was a walk, Jed Lowrie walloped a two-run double to the center-field wall and David Ortiz stroked an RBI single. It was 3-0 Red Sox.
"That three-run spot happened with two outs and two strikes before they got it going," Hillman noted.
Hochevar has been hammered in two-out situations, with opponents hitting .352 (58-for-165) with 43 RBIs against him.
"I have to get better at that," he said. "That's where I'm getting hurt, and that's where it's costing us games."
He concluded that about all he can do is keep pounding the strike zone with sinkers and hope for ground-ball outs. His manager didn't have a ready remedy, either.
"If we had the magic answer, we'd give it to you," Hillman said.
Hochevar was pulled in the sixth. Again with two outs, he issued a walk to Alex Cora to load the bases. That was all.
"You've got to be able to throw strikes," Hillman said. "You can't walk the bases loaded facing the No. 9 hitter. The No. 9 hitter is hitting in the nine-slot for a reason. Throw the ball over the plate."
Left-hander Ron Mahay was summoned from the bullpen, but he promptly gave up a two-run single to J.D. Drew. And, in the next inning, Mahay surrendered a three-run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury.
"I kind of felt like I didn't have much behind it today," Mahay said. "It is early August, and I hope it's just a little tiny spell."
Although he got a big strikeout in Monday night's series opener, Mahay has been knocked around in his other two most recent outings.
Hillman thought perhaps Mahay, appearing in his 50th game and leaned on heavily this season, might have been tired.
"The bottom line today is I stuck with him too long," Hillman said. "I should have gotten him out of the game before I did."
Hillman had warmed up his Royals by throwing knuckleballs to them during batting practice. So who had the best knuckler -- Hillman or Wakefield?
"I don't think there's any question," Hillman said. "I would think Mr. Wakefield's is a lot better."
How about it, Mr. Wakefield?
"Yeah, I would hope so," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.