The next phase of Royals rookie left-hander Kris Bubic’s learning curve may be as simple as being more aggressive early in the count.
Bubic’s fourth career start was similar to his first three in one telling regard: falling behind hitters.
To his credit, Bubic battled, and he gave up just two runs through 4 1/3 innings in the Royals’ 4-1 loss to the Twins on Monday night at Target Field.
But Bubic entered the game having thrown just 45 percent first-pitch strikes. That percentage will drop even more after he managed 9-of-20 first-pitch strikes on Monday.
Bubic didn’t throw a first-pitch strike to any of the four hitters he faced in the first inning, and he was fortunate to escape without being nicked for any runs. He fell behind Jorge Polanco, who singled. Bubic then fell behind Mitch Garver, who hit a 99.7-mph rocket that shortstop Adalberto Mondesi fielded to begin a double play. He fell behind Nelson Cruz and eventually walked him. The same scenario unfolded then with Eddie Rosario, who lined out to Mondesi.
Bubic did grind through the next two scoreless innings with no damage. But the Twins got to him in the fourth. Cruz crushed a middle-in fastball for a home run, his first of two on the night. Cruz now has 29 home runs against the Royals over his career.
Two walks and a two-out RBI single by Byron Buxton made it 2-0 Twins. Bubic avoided further trouble in the fourth, but he left with one out in the fifth.
Bubic, who threw 96 pitches (53 strikes), gave up four hits, walked four and struck out four.
Meanwhile, the Royals’ mostly dormant offense during this four-game series remained that way Monday.
The Royals did have two excellent chances. In the fifth with a runner on first and two outs, Whit Merrifield smoked a liner off the top of the left-field wall but hit it so hard (103.1 mph) that the ball caromed directly on one hop to left fielder Rosario, who threw out Merrifield trying to advance to second base.
In the seventh, the Royals had runners at the corners with one out. But Mondesi, now two for his last 22, struck out, and Merrifield grounded out sharply up the middle.
Hunter Dozier hit his second homer of the season in the ninth.