Singer finds consistency after 'rough patch' with revamped changeup

June 28th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- was not too happy when he thought manager Matt Quatraro was coming out to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

But when the Royals righty saw it was just pitching coach Brian Sweeney for a mound visit, Singer breathed a sigh of relief -- then pitched his way out of the jam to give him a quality start.

Singer threw six scoreless innings in the Royals’ 2-1 series-opening loss to the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium, the fourth quality start by a Royal in the last eight games after starters had just eight quality starts through 71 games this season.

The Royals spoiled that start by mustering just two hits, although until the ninth inning that seemed like it would be enough in the pitchers' duel. Kansas City got on the board in the eighth with Edward Olivares’ leadoff double, and pinch-runner Dairon Blanco stole third, then scored on an error from reliever Trevor Stephan when Nicky Lopez hit a chopper back to the mound. 

Blanco was running on contact, broke back to third when Stephan fielded the ball, then scrambled home when he saw the throw go to the backboard. But the Guardians countered with a walk, a single and a two-run double off Royals closer Scott Barlow in the ninth.

“Scotty gets a ton of breaking balls, and they put them in play,” Quatraro said. “They didn’t hit him hard, but they put them in play.”

The biggest takeaway on Tuesday, though, was Singer, who now has a 3.86 ERA in his last nine starts since May 11 after going 2-4 with an 8.82 ERA in his first seven starts.

“Went through a lot of rough patches, but it’s just been constant work between every outing with myself and the pitching coaches,” Singer said. “They’ve done a great job. We just keep moving on and keep trying to figure out things to put together better outings, and you’ve started to see it come around a little bit more.”

On Tuesday, Singer needed 43 pitches to get through two innings as he gained command of his sinker, relying heavily on his slider and getting weak contact to get out of jams and long at-bats. Around the third and fourth innings, he started landing his sinker in the zone.

In the sixth inning, Singer got a double-play ball -- one of 11 groundouts Tuesday -- before José Ramírez singled, and Josh Naylor reached on an error from Bobby Witt Jr. But Singer struck out Josh Bell looking on a front-hip sinker to end his outing at 95 pitches.

“It’s something I’ve struggled with all season,” Singer said. “Runners get on; I haven’t been able to get out of those jams. I had a few double plays. The defense was really, really good tonight. They picked me up on a lot of things. That was the biggest thing, getting out of those jams.

“Mixing pitches, not letting the inning get too big. We’re in a really big part of the game. There were runners on. Zero-zero ballgame. To get out of that was huge.”

Singer’s changeup will be key in helping him get back to the pitcher he was last year. He changed the grip of the pitch earlier this season, so getting used to that and gaining confidence in throwing it has been a work in progress. But the way he’s throwing it is better suited for him; the righty is throwing more of a split-change that’s similar to his sinker grip -- basically using his sinker grip and splitting his fingers apart on the ball. That helps Singer feel more natural throwing it.

It also leads to some changeups registering as sinkers on Statcast or on the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard, which is why the three changeups Statcast said Singer threw on Tuesday aren't entirely accurate. Those are the ones he landed well and threw with the right speed, while there are some changeups that he’s throwing at 90 mph.

“What can we do different, to be better, how can we make this pitch better?” Sweeney said pregame. “Speed differential is an important thing. If he can get that 87 mph, 86 mph, with the right vertical break, we’re in a good spot. It certainly gives him another weapon to go into the fight with.

“It’s a work in progress, but this is probably the most consistent it’s been since I’ve known him. Just needs to show up between the white lines when the intensity ramps up.”