Bubic threw a no-hitter through six innings. He issued a one-out walk to Frank Schwindel in the first inning and then retired 17 straight Chicago batters. But a 34-minute weather delay in the middle of the seventh inning due to lightning in the proximity of Wrigley Field proved enough to throw off Bubic’s rhythm.
The southpaw took the mound at 81 pitches after the tarp was removed, walked Schwindel on five pitches and then gave up a home run to Patrick Wisdom that erased both his no-hit bid and the shutout. Bubic’s day was done at 6 1/3 innings after he got Matt Duffy to ground out to first base.
Manager Mike Matheny expressed frustration at the way the delay was handled, especially because of how it impacted his pitcher. Matheny called Bubic’s start “one of the best three-pitch mix starts I’ve ever watched.”
“That’s just a shame that he wasn’t able to keep rolling there, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Matheny said. “It’s an embarrassment, I think … to have something as special going on as what we were witnessing right there. You pull us off that field, that rain better hit us or something better happen worse than what [did] happen.”
Matheny said he was told that the delay was for lightning in the area, but he thinks the rule in place for lightning can’t stand as is.
“Apparently there is some rule that they’ve had in place here, but that rule needs to be changed,” Matheny said. “I’m just going to be honest, I’d love to see what was happening if they had a no-hitter, and we get some sort of lightning in some distant future spot that they’re going to pull that club off the [field] and put at risk somebody doing something that just doesn’t happen very often in a lifetime. So it is what it is, but it needs to be fixed because it’s wrong.”
Though Bubic’s pitch count was getting high, Matheny was willing to let him finish his no-hit bid. Bubic’s most recent start was short, the Royals are on a six-man rotation and pitchers don’t get many chances to toss a game like Bubic did.
Bubic spent the delay in the bullpen, getting up twice to stay loose and keep his arm ready. He anticipated that there would be some kind of delay, he said, because he saw the grounds crew getting active during the sixth inning and saw messages on the Wrigley scoreboards warning fans of nearby lightning.
No matter how his start ended, Bubic attributed his excellent pitching in part to the rhythm he was in with catcher Cam Gallagher.
“Really good rhythm with Cam today,” Bubic said. “We didn’t shake off once and kept rolling right on through, and anything he was putting down, I was throwing.”
Still, Bubic’s performance Saturday showed the growth he has made as a young pitcher, and that his poor start against the Cardinals didn’t carry over. In all, Bubic struck out nine Cubs — including fanning the side in the fourth inning — while granting just the two walks and Wisdom’s homer.
“Kris has the ability [to make] those adjustments,” Matheny said. “We’ve watched him do that in the past, where it would be a start that wasn’t quite what he was looking for, and he went out and figured out how to try to put a better game plan together.
“You can have the best game plan possible, you can be the smartest guy in the league, [but] it comes down to execution.”
Bubic’s start against St. Louis on Sunday was the worst of his career since debuting with Kansas City last season. Catcher Salvador Perez, who was scratched from the starting lineup with a headache, said that he talked to Bubic about adjusting his approach to opposing hitters before his outing Saturday after Bubic had struggled against the Cardinals.
Instead of working the strike zone so heavily, Perez said he told Bubic to work on expanding where he was throwing his pitches.
“Seriously, he likes to throw strikes,” Perez said. “He likes to throw too many strikes, sometimes in the big leagues that doesn’t work. You need to throw some balls.”
In 2020, Bubic threw 61% of his pitches for strikes, and this season he’s up by one percentage point (62%). That’s in line with the average across baseball, but Perez said the key for Bubic is to get him to work the outer parts of the plate to force hitters to expand their zone.
“You don’t have to throw too many strikes,” Perez said. “If you throw a ball, they’re going to chase it.”
Against the Cubs, Bubic threw 61 of his 92 pitches for strikes, and his changeup was especially effective.
Before Saturday’s start, Matheny said that Bubic has gotten himself in trouble in the past by relying too heavily on one pitch out of his repertoire, staying too high in the zone and getting behind in counts. Having a better outing meant trusting the game plan created by his catcher and the Royals’ coaches.
“Executing instead of overthinking,” Matheny said. “I think smart guys have a tendency to do that. There’s a balance. Use that for your advancement, but also trust in some of the other game planning that’s been done for you, some of the data that we have.”
The Royals’ offense scored two runs against Cubs starter Keegan Thompson and added two more against Chicago’s bullpen. In the first inning, Whit Merrifield led off with a single and then advanced to third when Nicky Lopez doubled. Merrifield scored on a passed ball. Emmanuel Rivera scored the Royals’ second run — he opened the second inning with a walk and then scored on back-to-back singles by Merrifield and Lopez. Andrew Benintendi scored from first base in the fifth on an error by catcher Robinson Chirinos, and a pair of steals by Lopez in the seventh inning helped produce the Royals’ fourth run.