By Anne Rogers
KANSAS CITY — After Kris Bubic walked the first two batters of Wednesday’s game, he got behind in the count to the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter in Nolan Arenado and went to his fastball.
Bubic aimed it up and in, it landed down and in the middle of the plate and the Royals starter was stuck once again in an early spiral.
Arenado crushed the fastball over the left-center wall at Kauffman Stadium to begin the Royals’ eventual 10-0 loss to the Cardinals, dropping the season series to St. Louis for the fifth time in the past six seasons.
“Probably the last place I wanted to go with it,” Bubic said of the fastball Arenado hit out. “When you’re searching for things, you’re searching for things. … A 2-1 fastball over the heart of the plate to a hitter like that is a recipe for disaster.”
And after allowing a double two batters later, Bubic’s outing was over before it really started.
The lefty failed to get out of the first inning, recording just one out in the shortest start of his career. He allowed four runs on two hits, and of the 24 pitches he threw, only 10 were strikes. He registered seven swings and only got one whiff — the second pitch of the game, when Tommy Edman swung and missed a fastball.
“Didn’t do my job,” Bubic said. “Flat out. Plain and simple. It sucks. It’s embarrassing right now. It’s pretty much as frustrating as it gets. Not just today, but the last month. It’s as frustrated as I’ve ever been on a baseball field.”
Bubic has now started five games and allowed 18 runs on 18 hits, with 11 walks and eight strikeouts. That’s a 13.14 ERA and 2.35 WHIP. Fourteen of those runs came in the first inning; no other pitcher in the Majors has allowed more than nine in the first inning. The Royals have been outscored 25-5 in the first inning alone this season.
Bubic has only pitched 12 1/3 innings across those five starts, which isn’t enough to list him as a qualified starter and see where he ranks among other starters — many of whom have five or six starts — in the league.
The main issue Bubic is fighting right now is his fastball command. For a pitcher who thrives off his ability to pinpoint his pitches, Bubic hasn’t been able to control much this season.
Bubic has success with his fastball at the top of the zone, but he’s seen too many fall down and over the middle of the plate.
“I’m just trying to get his fastball down, because when he actually lives at the top of the zone, it actually plays hotter than you think,” Arenado said. “It may say 90 mph, but it plays kind of hot. Just trying to get him down, and luckily enough I was able to.”
Hitters entered Wednesday with an .808 slugging percentage on Bubic’s fastball, according to Statcast, and a .462 batting average. He’s thrown the pitch 51.7% of the time, and it’s not allowing his other pitches to play. Bubic said Wednesday he scrapped his slider, a pitch he developed this offseason and felt confident in this spring, because he needed to get his three better pitches right before mixing in the fourth pitch.
In most of his past starts this season, Bubic found something after the first inning to settle in, but manager Mike Matheny, noting the urgency to win, went to his rested bullpen early to try to keep the Royals in the game.
They were down 5-0 after the top of the first inning and only mustered one hit off Adam Wainwright in seven innings and four total for their fourth shutout of the season and third in the past five days.
It’s entirely reasonable to wonder what’s next for Bubic, and the Royals will likely address that over the next few days, helping him map out a plan to get it right.
“Not sure yet,” Matheny said about his message to Bubic. “Haven’t had that with him today. Timing’s not right yet. But we’ll have that conversation. … Whatever we need to do, alterations in their warmup, alteration in their side sessions in between starts, how we can get them in a place where they trust their stuff and trust the zone and trust the defense.
“It does set the tempo for the entire game. And there’s a lot resting on him, and that’s hard for a young pitcher. But that’s what they’ve been working to do, that’s what their job is.”