Kris Bubic has been, quite literally, hit or miss this season.
As a member of the Royals’ Big Five (starting pitchers taken in the 2018 MLB Draft), it’s understandable that the 24-year-old will take his lumps as he builds innings and experience on the Major League level.
Because of that, it seems that many of Bubic’s gem outings have been followed with a less-than-stellar start. With just a handful of games remaining in 2021 and Bubic expected to be a major player for Kansas City in ’22, it is important for everyone that the lefty finish strong.
Sunday was a huge step in the right direction. Bubic twirled seven scoreless frames and allowed just two hits during arguably the best start of his young career as the Royals wrapped their season series against the Tigers with a 2-1 win at Comerica Park.
“He did a great job getting ahead, which is huge for him and really all of our pitchers, especially our young pitchers,” said Whit Merrifield, who finished 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles. “It’s fun to see him continue to improve.”
Coming off of a dominant start against the Mariners during which he allowed one run on two hits over 6 1/3 innings, Bubic took the mound with confidence in Detroit and rode his fastball to victory during his longest outing of the year and tying the longest effort of his career, set Sept. 5, 2020, against the White Sox.
Bubic was hot out of the gate Sunday, striking out one during a perfect first and facing the minimum during the first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh frames. He didn’t allow a hit until Isaac Paredes legged out an infield single with two outs in the fourth, and he responded by inducing a groundout to end the frame.
Still, Bubic wasn’t pleased with the frame, uttering a colorful word as he stalked toward the dugout after the inning. His personal pep talk did just the trick: Bubic permitted just one more hit the rest of the way, a sixth-inning single to Jonathan Schoop.
“I was in a good rhythm with [catcher Cam Gallagher] all day,” Bubic said. “I think making pitches and getting ahead in the count was huge today, because at the end of the day, the game’s designed for the pitchers to win.
“You get in good counts, you stay ahead in the count, you execute your pitches, more often than not, you’ll get the job done.”
The Royals’ offense again struggled to push runs across, loading the bases twice in the first three innings and leaving seven stranded during that time. Andrew Benintendi singled in Kansas City’s first run in the first inning, and a Nicky Lopez sacrifice fly in the fourth pushed the Royals’ lead to 2-0.
The way Bubic dealt though, two runs were sufficient. Josh Staumont picked up where his starter left off, fanning two during a one-hit eighth. Scott Barlow hit trouble in the ninth, loading the bases with two outs before striking out pinch-hitter Harold Castro on a foul tip to seal the win.
Kansas City has leaned heavily on its young arms at times this year, particularly those of the Big Five, who have each seen time in the rotation this year. Brady Singer (4.72 ERA, 26 starts), Jackson Kowar (11.45, six), Daniel Lynch (5.40, 14), Bubic (4.52, 19) and Jon Heasley (3.86, two) have each been called upon to contribute, making the Royals the first team with five pitchers from the same Draft class to start a game in the same season.
Though Bubic came close to the mark with a 19-pitch second, he did not have a 20-pitch frame on Sunday, highlighted by a nine-pitch fifth. Despite a pitch count approaching triple digits, Bubic managed to hang tough in his final frame, fanning the first and last batters he met while inducing a flyout between en route to a six-strikeout afternoon.
Growing pains are, of course, the nature of the beast. With this last start though, Bubic showed definite signs of turning the corner and gave Royals fans a reason to be excited to see him on the hill again in 2022.
“I think [Bubic] found a nice rhythm,” Kansas City manager Mike Matheny said. “Just reinforcing to him, as well as these other young pitchers that are watching. Some of those [offspeed pitches] were 89 mph that he was able to get past good hitters. A well-located fastball is the best pitch in the game that allows you to use your other stuff more effectively.”