ARLINGTON — Earlier this week in New York, Royals lefty Kris Bubic felt like he had found another gear to his game with his curveball usage and fastball command. He pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings against the Yankees, including getting the final out of the bottom of the fourth with the bases loaded and the score tied.
It was another step forward in trusting his curveball, in attacking the bottom of the zone, in using his changeup effectively off that fastball command. Just as important of a lesson came on Saturday afternoon against the Rangers, when Bubic felt none of that.
In a bullpen game where the Royals would have liked to see multiple innings out of the young pitcher, Bubic registered two outs in the team’s 8-0 loss at Globe Life Field. He allowed three runs in the second inning and needed 40 pitches to face eight batters, walking two.
“I just couldn’t really get in a rhythm with anything,” Bubic said. “All three pitches were a grind to get out there today. It’s simple. Last time I did my job. Today I didn’t. I got ahead a few times, but couldn’t put anybody away. Fell behind, and you know what happens.”
The Rangers added on with Joey Gallo’s monster three-run home run off Ervin Santana in the fourth and Gallo’s two-run homer in the eighth off Wade Davis. The loss was the Royals’ fourth in a row (1-4 on this 10-game road trip) and second in this weekend series, in which the Rangers scored a total of 17 runs.
Texas starter Kyle Gibson shut down the Kansas City lineup with an effective five-pitch mix. After allowing five runs in one-third of an inning on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium, Gibson threw seven scoreless on Saturday, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits.
The Royals loaded the bases in the fifth inning when Ryan O’Hearn and Kelvin Gutierrez each singled and Jorge Soler walked. But Jarrod Dyson struck out swinging and Michael A. Taylor grounded into a double play as Kansas City’s chances of getting back in the game fizzled.
“That was our shot right there,” O’Hearn said. ‘[Gibson] was good. I’ve faced him before when he was with Minnesota, and he definitely looked better today than what I remembered. At the same time, it’s no excuse. You tip your hat, but you need to make something happen.”
Gibson’s start illuminated a key component that manager Mike Matheny has emphasized all season with his pitchers: The effectiveness of pitching down in the zone.
It’s a lesson Matheny hopes his young pitchers can learn from.
“We keep talking about these pitchers needing effectiveness in the bottom of the zone,” Matheny said. “[Gibson] put on a display of what that looked like. How to execute. I remember one pitch, maybe, that he tried to elevate on, and he did. He got a strikeout on an elevated four-seam fastball and then it was right back to the bottom. Down with the slider, tunneled the sinker and the four-seam out of the same spot.
“Great learning opportunity for our guys to pay attention to. … He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. If they were in the middle, they were down-middle, instead of working their way toward the belt.”
Bubic is a pitcher who can thrive in the bottom of the strike zone with all three of his pitches. He’s struggled with commanding his fastball up when he’s targeting a hitter’s holes at the top of the zone and then bringing the ball back down.
These are lessons that the young Royals pitchers will go through as they learn on the job. As good as Bubic looked in the Bronx, he’s still going to have days like Saturday. The challenge is limiting the damage.
“Just honestly trying to go out there and be as consistent as possible,” Bubic said. “It was great the last time, but today it was maybe as bad as it gets. Not to say finding the middle ground of those two, but making the hard days of how I feel and all that making those at least bearable and keeping the team in the game.”
Bubic will be one of the long relievers the club turns to for innings in the coming games as Danny Duffy throws limited starts and relief appearances in between.
With Saturday’s lesson learned, it’s on to the next outing.
“It’s the short memory and not thinking too much,” Bubic said. “When you struggle or when you go through ups and downs, the tendency is to press and want to fix every little thing. When in reality, a lot of the time, it’s more mental than it is physical. … Trust that I have what it takes and go from there.”