GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Kris Bubic fired in two quick strikes to White Sox leadoff hitter Tim Anderson on Thursday and then threw the pitch he thought would get his first out. Anderson ended up working the at-bat into a full count before grounding out, and at the end of the first hitter Bubic faced in his fourth Cactus League start, he was already up to 10 pitches. By the end of his first inning, Bubic was closing in on 30 pitches.
Those are the kind of innings Bubic wants to change in his second year in the Majors.
“It’s tough to go through that at-bat,” Bubic said. “I want to put the guy away. I think that’s definitely the No. 1 thing you could point to in terms of pitch counts and long at-bats. Before you know it, I’ve thrown 25 pitches in an inning. Long term, you can’t have that.”
Bubic allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings in the Royals’ 9-7 loss to the White Sox at Camelback Ranch on Thursday, and the left-hander was pulled in the third inning because of a high pitch count -- which is what hurt him the most throughout his rookie season last year. Bubic’s focus this year is finding the command that helped him thrive in the Minors, where he relied on his ability to mix and locate three pitches, walking just 42 in 149 1/3 innings across 26 starts at Class A Lexington and Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2019. He struck out a Minor League-leading 185 batters and posted a 0.97 WHIP, while holding batters to a .199 average.
With Kansas City, Bubic fell into a pattern of deep counts, leading to high pitch counts and working around men on base with a 1.48 WHIP. He got through six innings or more in just two outings and posted a 4.32 ERA across 50 innings, with a 8.82 strikeout-per-nine ratio.
Bubic’s focus this spring is less mechanical than it is mental -- wanting to stay aggressive in all counts rather than being too fine, especially when he’s ahead in the count.
“Not to nibble, just attack,” Bubic said. “Behind in the count, you dig yourself a hole a little bit. Ahead, especially, I’m not trying to waste pitches or trying to be too fine or perfect all the time.”
Bubic has impressive stuff, including a changeup that plays well off his fastball. He also has a developing curveball that he has been able to use more in Spring Training. That pitch is going to be an asset for him -- especially in his second season as he and the league adjust to each other.
“I feel pretty comfortable throwing it,” Bubic said. “The next step with that pitch is throwing it, especially early in counts, and especially behind in counts, because the book on me is out. Obviously, I’m going to throw fastballs and changeups the majority of the time, even behind in counts. If I can have [the curve] in there, it’ll help my life be a little easier out there, so I don’t throw 60 pitches and get less than 10 outs.”
Bubic made a favorable impression with the Royals last year with his approach, demeanor and ability to pitch well without having the location he showed in the Minors, and manager Mike Matheny knows there’s more in Bubic to unlock.
“This guy’s going to be a good pitcher,” Matheny said. “What looks right, he’s just not getting the results he wants. When you have a pitcher like that, you keep working. You keep manipulating. You keep looking for opportunities to expand the zone. We’re going to keep trying to help him, and he’s going to keep doing everything he needs to do. This guy’s going to pitch in the league for a long time.”
Alternate training site news
The Royals announced Thursday that they will hold their alternate training site at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark., home of the Royals’ Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate. Teams are permitted to have an alternate training site for the first month of the season because the Minor League season is not scheduled to begin until May. Last season’s alternate training site was at T-Bones Park -- now Legends Field -- in Kansas City.
Springdale is about 200 miles south of Kansas City. The Royals will likely have depth players there, many of whom have spent most of Spring Training in big league camp and will have just missed the cut for the Opening Day roster. The Royals are working on scheduling games with other alternate training sites, and whether they can play games will help determine what players will go to Northwest Arkansas on April 1.
• Jakob Junis, Jonathan Bowlan, Tyler Zuber and Collin Snider pitched live batting practice at the Royals’ Spring Training complex on Thursday, facing some of Kansas City's Minor League hitters like Lucius Fox, Nick Heath, Sebastian Rivero, Kelvin Gutirrez and Meibrys Viloria.