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Johnson batters Rays in return to Trop

By Erik Erlendsson
Published: June 13, 2013 Updated: June 14, 2013 at 09:58 AM
Former Tampa Bay player Elliot Johnson, right, celebrates with Kansas City teammates Miguel Tejada and Alcides Escobar after hitting a three-run homer in the sixth inning.

ST. PETERSBURG - All the focus of Kansas City's first trip to Tropicana Field this season was on the return of former Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields.

Perhaps Tampa Bay should have paid a bit more attention to Elliot Johnson, who turned out to be the player to be named later in the off-season trade that sent Shields to the Royals.

Johnson, who played the previous two seasons with the Rays, tormented his former team with three hits on Thursday, including a home run, as Tampa Bay (35-31) opened a four-game series with a 10-1 loss to Kansas City (31-33) in front of an announced crowd of 11,398.

The Rays have lost four of the past five games.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-3) was tagged for eight runs on 10 hits with most of the damage inflicted in the sixth that was ignited by Johnson, who started the inning with a single then chased Hellickson with a three-run home run. In 11 at-bats against the Rays this season Johnson has six hits, two home runs and four RBI; against the rest of the league he is batting .202 (17-for-84) with zero home runs and three RBI.

Johnson entered the game on a 0-for-13 stretch and had just two hits in his previous 30 at bats dating back to May 27.

The Rays' offense struggled to put anything together against Ervin Santana (5-5), who allowed no earned runs on five hits without walking a batter.

Plagued by early-inning trouble during his first handful of starts, Hellickson was on cruise control to start Thursday's game. Coming off a strong six-inning scoreless outing on Saturday against Baltimore, Hellickson retired the first nine Kansas City hitters he faced before giving up a leadoff single to Alex Gordon to start the fourth inning. A 6-4-3 double play to end the fourth had Hellickson facing the minimum number of batters through four innings and he was one over the minimum through five innings.

But the sixth proved pivotal for the Rays starter as former Ray Elliot Johnson led off the inning with a base hit to right and moved to third on a double by Alcides Escobar. Gordon followed with an RBI single while Escobar would come home on a wild pitch. Salvador Perez lined a one-out single to center to give Kansas City a 3-0 lead followed by a bouncing single by Bobby Butler through the second-base hole on a hit-and-run play put runners on the corners.

Hellickson would strike Lorenzo Cain looking for the second out of the inning but David Lough made it 4-0 with a base hit to right for the Royals sixth hit of the inning. Miguel Tejada followed that up with a double down the left field line for a 5-0 lead. Johnson, who started the inning with a single, then added insult to injury by belting a three-run home run to right field to give the Royals an eight-run lead. The home run was the second of the season for Johnson, who hit his first on May 1 also against Hellickson.

The home run by Johnson chased Hellickson, who allowed eight runs on eight hits in the inning while throwing 34 of his 100 pitches on the night before giving way to Jake Odorizzi, who recorded the final out of the inning after Kansas City sent 11 batters to the plate.

Tampa Bay tried to scratch its way back into the game in the bottom half when Jose Molina led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a throwing error by third baseman Tejada off an infield grounder off the bat of Yunel Escobar. Matt Joyce followed that up with a single, but Escobar was doubled off second when Ben Zobrist lined to short and Kelly Johnson flew out to end the inning.

Kansas City would tack on an addition run with Eric Hosmer's solo home run in the top of the seventh to make it 9-1 before Cain would make it 10-1 with an RBI single in top of the eighth.