KANSAS CITY -- Will Smith came back from Triple-A Omaha saying that he'd learned a lot, that things would be easier for him this time around. Unfortunately for Smith, his second stint in the Royals' rotation didn't start much better than the first one.
The opposing Mariners didn't batter Smith as much as they had his teammates in the series' first three games, but they got to him nonetheless, leading to another Royals loss, 6-1, Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
After cruising through the first inning, Smith got into trouble in the second. Jesus Montero led off with a rocket line drive to deep center field. Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson went back on the ball and crashed into the padding at full speed. There was no play to make, though, as the ball went over the fence for a home run.
Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak followed with singles, and both came around to score -- Seager on a Michael Saunders single and Smoak on a Brendan Ryan sacrifice fly, making the score 3-0 by inning's end.
The Mariners tacked on another in the top of the fifth. After doubling with one out, Ichiro Suzuki scored on a single by Montero, increasing the lead to 4-0. Montero drove in two more after Smith exited: one on an RBI double in the seventh and another on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly. He finished the four-game series with eight RBIs.
The lack of support meant Smith's four runs allowed were enough to give him the loss. He's 1-3 on the season, and Montero's second-inning blast made it three of four starts in which Smith has allowed a home run. He ended up lasting 6 1/3 innings, a career high, and surrendering eight hits and two walks while striking out five.
Though the numbers weren't the prettiest, both Smith and manager Ned Yost said things went better this time around than they did during Smith's first turn with the Royals in late May and early June.
"I was able to slow the game down this time," Smith said. "Last time I was up here, the game was going so fast for me. I was able to take some deep breaths before my pitches and execute."
"He commanded the ball much better," Yost said. "He kept the ball down, changed speeds really well, didn't make near as many mistakes over the course of the game and did a nice job of getting us into the seventh inning. If we weren't facing Felix Hernandez, we were still in the game. It was 4-1 at that time. He did a nice job of keeping us in the game, going deep in the game, giving us a chance."
Oh yeah, Hernandez.
For the most part, Hernandez shut down the Royals' offense. Kansas City scored just once on a Chris Getz RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. The run ended Hernandez's streak of 19 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, but it was really the only thing the hitters could boast about. A one-out, bases-loaded threat in the eighth didn't amount to anything. Hernandez went eight innings, giving up eight hits, walking one and striking out three.
"He pitched outstanding today," Yost said. "I don't know if the heat had anything to do with it, but he wasn't trying to blow hitters away. He was spotting his pitches really nice, had nice two-seam action on his fastball, commanded the ball as well as I've seen a pitcher command the ball all year long. Good breaking stuff, kept the ball down consistently and really did a great job of pitching to contact today. Managed his pitch count very effectively and got a lot of real quick outs and did a great job of keeping us off-balance."
"He's off-speed stuff is so deadly that you just can't get behind in the count, so our goal was attack him early," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "It's why he's one of the best pitchers in the game. He was locating with his fastball, and he was changing speeds well with it. He threw a great game."
Hosmer was one of the only bright spots for the Royals. Dropped in the order before the game due to a season-long slump, Hosmer went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
"I'm sure their game plan was to hop on him early in the count and not let him get to his strikeout stuff," Mariners catcher John Jaso said. "That kind of helped a little, with the movement on his fastball he was getting poor balls hit in play. But give credit to the hitters, too, because I thought they did a pretty good job with what they were dealing with. They jumped on him early, they were hitting his changeup and two-seamer away and those lefties were flicking it out there to left-center. That was pretty impressive."
The Royals will be more than content to let the Mariners leave Kansas City. Seattle had a prolific offensive series, scoring 31 runs and collecting 50 hits in the four-game series. Mariners hitters smacked eight home runs and batted .325 in the series.
Some of that can be chalked up to the Mariners' road success. They entered Thursday's game leading the Majors with 245 runs scored on the road. But Yost said his team just needs to pitch better.
"It's more frustrating than deflating," Yost said. "We're not pitching well right now. The guys are out giving it their best effort, but we've got to find a way to get back on track.
"You go out there, and pitchers know that the guy before threw an inning and a third or an inning and two-thirds and they put a lot of pressure on themselves to go deep in the game. It's hard to be at your best when you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.