KANSAS CITY — Brady Singer returned to the Royals’ rotation on Wednesday after a three-week stay on the injured list, eager to join a group of young starters who had found themselves on a roll since the All-Star break.
But Singer labored through 3 2/3 innings in the Royals’ 5-2 loss to the Yankees, dropping the first set of a three-series homestand at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City has lost 11 consecutive series to New York, with its last series win coming in May 2015.
The Yankees hit Singer often, tallying 10 hits and five runs against the right-hander, who was coming back from right shoulder fatigue. The Royals knew he would be somewhat limited in terms of pitch count, because he only built up to 60 pitches in his two rehab assignments. He needed 67 to complete 3 2/3 innings.
Kansas City’s bullpen held New York scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, but the Royals were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Whit Merrifield was 3-for-4 with his 33rd stolen base of the season, tying Carlos Beltran (1999-2001) for most consecutive stolen bases without being caught in franchise history.
But Merrifield was thrown out going for his 34th straight in the seventh, the rest of the Royals’ offense was left searching for the big hit on a Yankees bullpen day and Singer had put them in too big of a hole.
“One of those starts that he wasn’t sharp,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Couldn’t locate the fastball, but he had pretty good movement. He runs into that every once in a while, trying to control how much movement it has. The slider didn’t have that kind of bite to bail him out of those situations. He was in a mess every single inning. You mix that with the heat, first time back — it was a lot.”
Singer faced trouble from the start, issuing a leadoff walk on five pitches to DJ LeMahieu. The righty eventually induced a double play to end the inning, but not before allowing three hits and walking another batter to put the Yankees up by three before the Royals came to bat.
Singer pitched scoreless innings in the second and third, albeit with traffic — two hits in the second, and a walk and a double in the third. The Yankees jumped on him in the fourth with a leadoff double and three consecutive one-out singles for two runs.
Without command of his sinker or sharpness with his slider, Singer didn’t turn to his changeup much either. That’s been the pitch he has tried to incorporate into his arsenal all year, but one he rarely throws. On Wednesday, he threw one changeup for a ball and looked to have thrown another, although it was tracked as an 89-mph four-seam fastball.
“I didn’t have the other two pitches, so I didn’t feel like I could throw [the changeup] as well either,” Singer said. “All around, struggled with all three pitches today.”
Singer used his rehab assignment to incorporate his changeup more. He threw 10 changeups in his final rehab start in Triple-A Omaha before rejoining the team — and he was hoping to throw it more Wednesday.
“When you don’t have the other two pitches going, it’s hard to go to your third pitch,” Singer said. “I came out there, I wanted to throw it a lot, I feel really comfortable with it. It’s something I’ve worked on over the past few weeks. It’s something I feel comfortable with and I feel like I can throw it in any count. But when the other two pitches aren’t working as well, it’s tough to do.”
Singer fell behind in counts multiple times Wednesday, and when he faces trouble like that, he hasn’t shown the confidence to turn to his third-best pitch in the changeup.
“You got to find yourself in better counts to do that, unless you’re going to throw it the first pitch,” Matheny said. “That’s probably his third-best pitch as far as strike ratio. It’s hard to go to your third-best pitch when you have your back against the wall. We’d like to see Brady ahead in the counts, get quick outs and then you can start using [the changeup] in some counts to where they’re going to have a better chance to be effective for him.”
Throwing the changeup is Singer’s next step in his development. Doing so at the Major League level is daunting, especially with Singer being 24 years old and in only his second year in the Majors. But he has struggled to go deep in games this season, with nine starts in which he hasn’t finished the fourth inning (including one injury-shortened start and one limited start).
A third pitch could help keep a lineup off-balance, and thus, get him deeper into games.
Singer said he found a grip he likes on the pitch in Omaha. When to throw it, how often to use it and against which batters are all questions he now must answer.
But step one is committing to throwing it, much like Kris Bubic has committed to throwing his curveball and Carlos Hernández his changeup over the past month.
“I was hoping to see it a little more,” Matheny said. “He’s going to have to. That’s just something that he knows.”