Despite another loss, Aaron Nola looked more like the Phillies current and future ace on Saturday.
Nola lost his fourth straight game after giving up five runs on six hits in five innings in Philadelphia's 6-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Nola (5-8) hadn't gotten past 3 2/3 innings his three previous losses, and the 23-year-old right-hander has a 13.50 ERA during his skid. There were signs of encouragement, though, as Nola finished by retiring 10 straight batters.
"The last three innings, he looked like his old self," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I was very encouraged. He wasn't trying to do too much and was relaxed."
The Royals scored all five of their runs off Nola in the second inning.
Kendrys Morales did the greatest damage, putting the Royals up 5-1 with a three-run home run to right field. Normally Kansas City's designated hitter, Morales has played right field the last two games because manager Ned Yost wanted to keep his hot bat in the lineup.
It was the third straight game with a homer for Morales, who extended his hitting streak to eight consecutive games by going deep in the second inning. He is batting .565 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in his last 13 games.
"He's carrying us a little bit right now," Yost said.
The Royals tied the game at 1 on starter Danny Duffy's first major league hit and RBI, a bunt single that was popped up into a perfect spot between the pitcher's mound and shortstop. Duffy had been 0 for 10 with five strikeouts this season.
"I'll take it," Duffy said. "It just worked."
Whit Merrifield's RBI single to right with two outs put Kansas City ahead 2-1 before Morales' drive.
Nola shut Kansas City down from that point, but Mackanin pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the fifth after the right-hander threw 95 pitches.
"I felt really good today, even in the second inning when I hung a curveball," Nola said. "I thought I had pretty good stuff today."
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the first on Maikel Franco's single that bounded off Duffy's outstretched glove to score Peter Bourjos, who reached with a triple to extend his hitting streak to 11 straight games.
Philadelphia looked poised to score again in the fourth, but Alcides Escobar's stellar defense saved a run. Escobar sprinted deep in the hole at shortstop to field Cesar Hernandez's ground ball and threw to second for a force play on Carlos Ruiz for the final out.
Hernandez and Franco had two hits and an RBI each for Philadelphia, which had its four-game winning streak snapped.
"No offense to speak about," Mackanin said.
The Phillies were shut down by Duffy (4-1), who allowed two runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts and no walks while setting a career high for innings. The left-hander's previous best was eight innings, which he tied in Monday's win over St. Louis.
The 27-year-old Duffy recorded the first two outs of the ninth but was lifted for Joakim Soria after Hernandez's RBI single.
He said that prior to Saturday he'd never gotten an out in the ninth inning at any level of baseball. Duffy lobbied Yost after the eighth inning to stay in the contest.
"It's cool to finish a game," Duffy said. "(Yost) gave me the opportunity and I'm grateful for it."
Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert added a pair of hits for the defending World Series champion Royals, who finally gained some ground on Cleveland in the AL Central after the Indians had their 14-game winning streak snapped in Toronto. Kansas City trails the Indians by six games.
Philadelphia's Tommy Joseph went 0 for 3 with a strikeout, extending his slump to 0 for 17 with seven strikeouts.
Royals RHP Yordano Ventura (6-5, 5.00) opposes Philadelphia RHP Vince Velasquez (6-2, 3.38) on Sunday in the conclusion of the three-game series.