KANSAS CITY — Before the 2021 season began, the Royals knew they would be cautious with pitchers’ workloads as they jumped from the 60-game pandemic-shortened season in ‘20 to a full 162 games. Now that the 60-game mark has passed this year, those precautions will be heightened.
Starter Brady Singer exited Wednesday afternoon’s 6-5 loss to the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium after three innings as a precautionary measure because of right posterior shoulder tightness. The right-hander felt discomfort in his previous start, but he didn’t feel like it warranted time off, but the Royals set a limit for him on Wednesday — knowing they had relievers stretched out to cover innings if needed.
Singer hit that limit after 51 pitches, yielding one run in three innings.
“We knew going into today that we were going to see how he was feeling and limit the work if we needed to,” manager Mike Matheny said.
Singer described his concern level about the injury as “low.” The 24-year-old made his Major League debut last season and hasn’t missed a start since. He entered the series finale against Detroit having thrown 65 innings in 13 starts this year after he logged 64 1/3 innings in 12 starts during 2020. He didn’t know about the pitch limit going into Wednesday, but he has been aware that the workload question will hover all year.
“When [Matheny] told me, he was explaining how long the season is and stuff like that,” Singer said. “I’m going to trust what he says and what everybody else says. It’s my second year. I’ve never pitched 162 games, so I’m going to trust what they say. They’ve seen it all. Do what they think.”
Singer remained in the dugout after he came out of the game — a good sign after any early exit from a game — as Carlos Hernández took the mound for the top of the fourth and the Royals owning a 3-1 lead.
As Hernández held the Tigers quiet for three scoreless innings, the Royals looked like they were on track to avoid a sweep. Adalberto Mondesi hammered a Statcast-projected 445-foot homer in his first at-bat since coming off the injured list — mixed with an excellent defensive play in the fourth inning — and Salvador Perez provided a two-run lead with his 17th homer of the season.
But the bullpen, which has been the most consistent part of this Royals club all year, showed cracks late. And instead of salvaging the series, Kansas City was swept at home and suffered its 11th loss in the last 12 games. The losing streak is up to six in a row, and the team is now a season-high seven games under .500.
Greg Holland walked Niko Goodrum to lead off the seventh inning and allowed a two-run home run to Willi Castro to tie the game. Both Scott Barlow and Jake Brentz threw run-scoring wild pitches. The Tigers scored one more against Josh Staumont in the ninth, which proved to be the difference when the Royals scored two in the bottom of the inning.
To prepare for a late-game comeback, Jackson Kowar — who was listed as Friday’s starter against the Red Sox — warmed up in the bullpen, and Matheny said postgame that the Royals “don’t necessarily have a starter right now” for the series opener against Boston.
Thursday’s off-day couldn’t come at a better time after finishing a stretch of 14 games in 14 days and looking at a 20-game stretch beginning next week.
“This is the first time where I believe you’re feeling a grind,” Matheny said. “A year ago, I don’t think we ever got to that point. We had off-days mixed in, and everything was so weird and different, and 60 was so short that it was over before it started. I think right now, we’re being reminded of the test that this game is physically and mentally. And you can mix emotions in there, too. You wear the losses hard.”
For the Royals, the test has been to not have their emotions ride the rollercoaster of their record and the setbacks. After starting the season 16-9, they’ve endured an 11-game losing streak, followed by a 13-6 run, and now a 1-11 stretch. Add to that the injuries they’ve dealt with — from Mondesi to Danny Duffy and Andrew Benintendi, to now Singer — and they have yet to see their full strength roster.
“This is still a team that’s still defining who we are,” Matheny said. “… This was a tough run. Fourteen games with a West Coast trip, whole lot of stuff going on that made this a challenging run. And we got a 20-gamer ahead. It’s not going to get much easier against some really good teams. I keep saying we run into tests, but we’re tested every day. And it’s all going to be how we respond.”