Vargas shuts down Rays, KC takes series

Vargas shuts down Rays, KC takes series

ST. PETERSBURG -- A day after the Rays' bats shelled the Royals for 12 runs to snap a three-game losing streak, Jason Vargas kept them on ice in Thursday's matinee.

The left-hander allowed only three hits across seven scoreless innings and the offense backed him up with a five-run eighth as Kansas City prevailed, 6-0, at Tropicana Field for only its third series victory of the season.

Vargas was dominant all afternoon, giving the Rays (17-20) little in the way of good contact while striking out four and walking one. He allowed doubles to Logan Morrison and Peter Bourjos and a single to Corey Dickerson, but retired the last 10 batters he faced before being lifted with 96 pitches to lower his ERA to 1.01 in seven starts.

Vargas induces 1-4-3 double play

"We were able to command most counts and stay away from situations to extend innings or expose us to situations where we were going to have to work harder," Vargas said. "[Catcher Salvador Perez] pitch calling and the way he was able to keep guys off-balance was top notch."

Royals turning season around?

Whit Merrifield got the Royals (13-21) started with a long solo shot off Jake Odorizzi in the fourth, driving a ball to the long blue tarp behind the seats in left field. Kansas City poured it on in the eighth as Perez doubled home Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas with one out. Then, after Jorge Bonifacio followed up with another RBI double, a grounder by Merrifield up the middle slipped underneath the glove of Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier -- his third error in four games -- and rolled to the wall for two more runs.

Merrifield's grounder plates two

"It was one of those you get flushed where you hit it and you don't really feel," Merrifield said of the 428-foot blast. "It was a good one."

Merrifield's long solo homer

Odorizzi yielded four hits in six innings, striking out four and walking two. He is the first Rays starter to lose when allowing one run in six or more frames since May 2015.

"It's difficult," Odorizzi said. "We're in a lot of games, which is a plus. But we just need to find a way to close games out and get us back in the win column."

The Rays' main highlight came in the first, when Dickerson, playing left field, tracked a slicing fly ball off the bat of Eric Hosmer to the cutaway near the foul pole. At a full sprint, he lunged over the wall to take a home run away from the Royals first baseman.

Must C: Dickerson takes HR away

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sealing it late: Though the Rays kept the deficit close throughout, that changed with Perez's double to open the offensive explosion in the eighth. After Escobar singled and Moustakas walked to lead off the frame, Perez turned around a 1-0 pitch from reliever Diego Moreno and cleared the bases with a hard-hit shot to left.

Perez's two-run double

Slamming the door: Following Merrifield's homer, the Rays watched a golden opportunity to answer go by the wayside in the bottom of the fourth. Morrison connected for a two-out double off Vargas to center field to put the tying run aboard. But Rickie Weeks Jr., who belted his first-ever homer at Tropicana Field the night before, flied out to get Vargas out of the minor jam and Tampa Bay never threatened again.

QUOTABLE
"This has been a weird four days for me, and I just feel like I'm being tested right now. I don't know why, but I'm going to keep my spirits high." -- Kiermaier, who now has four errors on the season after committing just two in all of 2016

"I think yesterday was my audition and Ned said if I didn't screw up then maybe I'd play the next day." -- Alex Gordon, on getting his first start of the season in center field. Gordon ended up making two spectacular plays including a diving catch to rob Tim Beckham of extra bases

Gordon's diving snag in center

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the loss, Tampa Bay fell to 9-28 against the Royals since 2012 -- the worst record of any same-league matchup in the Majors during that time.

RELIEF WOES
The Rays' bullpen allowed five runs in three innings Thursday, and finished the nine-game homestand with a 7.76 ERA.

WHAT'S NEXT
Royals: Left-hander Danny Duffy (2-3, 3.50 ERA) will take the hill when Kansas City returns home to face Baltimore on Friday at 7:15 p.m. CT. Duffy has been a victim of poor run support recently. The Royals have been shut out in his last two outings.

Rays: Alex Cobb will get the nod when Tampa Bay travels to Fenway Park on Friday to open a three-game series with the Red Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET. The right-hander, who enters 2-3 with a 3.56 ERA, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of his 10 career starts against Boston.

Jeff Odom is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg, who covered the Rays on Thursday.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com based in St. Petersburg, who covered the Royals on Thursday.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.