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They hope they can begin this season like they ended the last one
, Ariz. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals lost 104 games in 2018 despite finishing the season 20-14. and not the way they’ve started in recent years.“These guys made a lot of progress from the middle of August all through September,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Monday before the club’s first full-squad workout. “They played really, really good and exciting baseball.“Does that mean we’re automatically going to come in here and pick up where we left off? No. We’re going to have to pick up where we left off. We’re going to have to work hard to continue that type of improvement. I’m real excited about it.”The Royals entered May last year with a 7-21 record. In 2017, they went 7-16 in April. Each year, they endured a nine-game losing streak in the season’s first month.“We started to put it all together in August,” said second baseman Whit Merrifield, who led the AL in hits and stolen bases. “Once we started winning games
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, we got confidence and momentum. That’s what we were missing at the start of last year.“I think if we got off to a good April last year, our season would have been drastically different than it was. It is important for us to get off to a good start, so we’re going to be ready to do that come March 28th.”Kansas City will hope to have All-Star catcher Salvador Perez healthy to start the season. Last year, he slipped on stairs carrying luggage just before the season opener and missed the first 20 games.Another factor in the poor start was outfielder Jorge Bonifacio getting an 80-game suspension to begin the season after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.The Royals have 64 players in spring training, including 35 pitchers and a dozen infielders.“The last two months last season were a lot of fun,” third baseman Hunter Dozier said.“We’re just going to build off of that. That’s what kept me going and a lot of guys going in the off-season is how we finished. We want to get off to a good start and have a good spring.” Kyle Hendricks ended his August with one of his best starts in 2018. The right-hander will try to carry that success into September and help the Chicago Cubs grow their lead in the National League Central on Saturday night.Hendricks and the Cubs are facing the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle game of a weekend series at Citizens Bank Park. Right-hander Zach Eflin will be on the mound for Philadelphia.The Phillies, who haven’t won any of their last seven series, beat the Cubs 2-1 on an Asdrubal Cabrera walk-off homer in Friday night’s opener. Philadelphia (72-62) narrowed its deficit to two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East after the victory.Article continues below ...Despite the Friday loss
, the Cubs (79-55) have still won eight of their last 10 games. Their lead was four games over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central after Friday’s loss.Hendricks was part of the Cubs’ recent success in his last outing, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds while giving up just two hits. It was the third time in 27 starts this season that Hendricks has thrown seven or more shutout innings.Hendricks (10-10, 3.86 ERA) has pitched seven innings in both of his last starts, giving up just two runs in the outings. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said one of Hendricks’ off-speed pitches has made a significant difference.“The difference for me is the deception on the changeup is back,” Maddon told reporters after Hendricks’ last start. “The arm speed on the changeup is there, and it’s not just a take pitch anymore. They’re not reading it like they were earlier this season, so that’s a big part of his success.”Hendricks, 28
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, is 3-2 with a 3.58 ERA and 0.949 WHIP in five career starts against the Phillies. He allowed five runs across five innings when he faced Philadelphia on June 5.Eflin (9-5, 3.99), meanwhile, has struggled recently. He has a 6.46 ERA and opponents are hitting .352 with a .917 OPS against him in his last three starts.He surrendered five runs (three earned) and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings of a loss to the Washington Nationals during his last start on Monday.“Honestly, I thought I threw the ball pretty well,” Eflin told MLB.com afterward. “I thought we did a good job of mixing it up. We had some good sequences going, utilized my changeup a lot tonight, which was big. It was a huge step for me being able to throw it that many times
, for it to look that good. But at the end of the day, I lost the game.”Eflin beat Hendricks and the Cubs in that June 5 game, going 7 2/3 innings while giving up just one run and eight hits. Eflin, a 24-year-old who has never pitched a major league game in September, is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA against the Cubs in two career starts.
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