BILLINGS — Royals right-hander Dann Blanchard had his sights set on a primetime start Friday at Dehler Park against the crosstown rival Scarlets, but when the game was moved to Pirtz Field due to steady morning rain everyone had to adjust on the fly.
It was par for the course for the Royals, who have already had eight games canceled early this season due to inclement weather. Blanchard didn’t flinch; he came out and threw a complete-game three-hitter in a 6-1 victory.
“It’s always nice to play at Dehler,” Blanchard said afterward, his shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice. “But I don’t think it bothered us much. At first it was a little bit of a bummer but once we started playing it was just another game.
“The mound here is a little harder. It’s harder to get your footing. You’ve just got to make do with what you got.”
Blanchard did, mixing his fastball, changeup, curveball and slider while giving up one unearned run, striking out six and walking one. It was the first matchup of the year between the longtime rivals — and the conference opener for both teams — and Blanchard’s effort on the hill gave the Royals (5-3, 1-0) a leg up.
He also reached base four times and had two RBIs to help the cause.
Royals shortstop Connor Hunter had three singles and scored two runs, and made life tough on the Scarlets (5-3, 0-1) on the base paths. One of Hunter’s hits was an infield single in the sixth, a play in which his speed negated a highlight-reel diving stop by Scarlets shortstop Koby Croft.
Neither team had played in two weeks, but the Royals had the upper hand from the start.
“We got outworked. They had better energy, better effort … they just outworked us,” said 13th-year Scarlets coach Adam Hust. “We were flat from the first pitch to the last pitch.
“You hope everybody gets up for this game and everybody plays hard, but they’re kids. It happens. It’s early in the season. You take your lumps and move on and keep playing and hopefully things get better.”
The Royals scored three runs in the fourth to build a cushion, highlighted by a sac fly by Brenden Concepcion that ended up plating two runs following a Scarlets error.
The teams combined for six errors, and both coaches indicated defense will be a big part of their focus for another long week of practice. The Royals and Scarlets are again scheduled to tangle Friday at Dehler Park for Legion Against Cancer night.
“Defense. Just work on our defense,” Royals coach Bryan Benjamin said. “Sometimes the hitting is going to come and go but as long as our pitchers are throwing strikes and we’re playing good defense we’ll win baseball games.”
“We’re going to come out and get a ton of ground balls,” Hust said. “We’ve been showing up and working every day, but unless you’re playing every day and staying consistent these things can happen and you don’t play well. That’s why I’m not panicking right now.”