KANSAS CITY -- In the visiting manager's office afterward, Ron Washington stared at his lineup card. Three hitters caught his attention: Josh Hamilton, Andruw Jones and Hank Blalock. They were a combined 1-for-11 with nine strikeouts against Luke Hochevar and Joakim Soria in the Rangers' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium. "Those are the guys that produce runs," Washington said. "That's the part of the lineup you look to produce runs. Nine strikeouts is not very good."
On this night, it was the middle of the Royals' order that did the damage. Billy Butler, their No. 3 hitter, had the biggest blow with a two-run home run off Derek Holland on a fatal 3-0 pitch that gave the Royals the lead for good in the fifth inning and led to the Rangers' five-game winning streak coming to an end. The Rangers, who got a first-inning home run from Michael Young and led 3-0 after 3 1/2 innings, are now 4 1/2 games behind the Angels, who won their eighth straight on Saturday. That's the farthest the Rangers have been out of first place this season. Hochevar earned the victory by holding the Rangers to three runs in seven innings. He struck out 13 -- one short of a Royals record -- while not walking a batter. Joakim Soria struck out three in two innings, giving the Rangers a season-high 16 on the night. "When you strike out that many times, you're not putting much pressure on the defense," Washington said. Hamilton and Jones had varying theories on what happened. Hamilton suggested said it was tough to see at home plate in the twilight with the game starting an hour earlier than on Friday. "There was a shadow on the infield and everything was bright behind it," Hamilton said. "It is what it is. ... They had to hit in it, too." Jones said the Rangers had trouble dealing with Hochevar's breaking pitches. "After Michael hit his home run off a fastball, [Hochevar] shied away from that pitch," Jones said. "He started throwing his curveball and slider. He just had good bite on both pitches. He pitched good. There's nothing you can do." Hamilton is 2-for-28 with 11 strikeouts in his last seven games and is 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts in five games against the Royals this season. Jones is 2-for-29 and without an RBI in his last nine games since hitting three home runs against the Angels on July 8. With those two struggling at the plate, the Rangers continue struggle to score runs. They are hitting .211 with 38 runs scored in their last 12 games since Jones hit his three home runs. They are also hitting .164 with runners in scoring position in that stretch, including 1-for-5 on Saturday. The Rangers had won their previous three games despite scoring a grand total of nine runs. They led this one, 3-0, after 3 1/2 innings before the Royals rallied with four off Holland and two off reliever Jason Jennings in the seventh. That kept Rangers from winning their fourth straight game despite scoring four or less runs, something that has happened just once in club history back on May 29-June 1, 1999. Holland is now 1-5 with a 6.42 ERA in nine starts this season. "I saw fight," Washington said. "But he still has to work on his commanding the baseball better. Derek had trouble trying to hit his spots from the beginning. He got through the first three but he still had trouble controlling the baseball." Holland began the night with three scoreless innings, stretching the Rangers' overall scoreless streak to 18 innings. But it came to an end in the fourth when Mark Teahen led off with a double and scored on a two-out single by John Buck. That made it 3-1, and the Royals made it a one-run game in the bottom of the fifth when Ryan Freel and David DeJesus led off with a pair of doubles. Willie Bloomquist then hit a high chopper to first that moved DeJesus to third. That brought up Billy Butler, a right-handed hitter, with Teahen, a left-handed hitter on deck. The Rangers moved the infield in and Holland threw three straight balls to Butler. Instead of throwing a fourth straight ball and setting up a double play, Holland threw a fastball in the strike zone and Butler hit it over the right-field fence for a two-run home run. "I didn't expect Butler to be swinging on 3-0," Holland said. "I was trying to pitch around him with a left-hander on deck." "If it wasn't in that spot where it was right there, I was going to take it," Butler said. "It's a 3-0 mentality. It's gotta be right there." The pitch was supposed to be low and outside. Instead it was over the heart of the plate and the Royals had the lead for good. "I felt good," Holland said. "I felt I was making my pitches but a couple got away. It's frustrating, but it's a learning process." There was much frustration to go around.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.