Singer breaks out new pitches in Cactus League debut

February 28th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. – Around the middle of last season, the Royals’ pitching department sat down with and showed him a PowerPoint presentation.

The topic was Singer’s repertoire, and the slides focused on how he could improve it with two additions: a four-seam fastball and a sweeper. Singer had been hard-headed on additions before for a variety of reasons, like the comfort with the grip or lack of success.

But the Royals gave their case for how those two specific pitches could expand what Singer could do as a starter with his sinker-slider combination, which can be elite but can also get him in trouble if he doesn’t have command of his sinker.

“You look at his movement plot -- how can we help that?” pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. “What’s going to get weak contact? What’s going to get the swing and miss you’re looking for? Can you open up a slider and make it run off a righty’s bat, but still use the gyro slider? How does using the top of the zone with your four-seam play off your two-seam? We had those discussions.”

Singer was sold on the idea because of the evidence and, well, another blunt reason.

“Probably sucking,” Singer said. “Probably that, yeah.”

He added: “It just helps. You’re talking about changing eye levels, going to different quadrants in the zone. It’s harder to figure out for hitters.”

Coming off an up-and-down 2023 season in which he ultimately threw a career-high in innings (159 2/3) while also posting a career-high 5.52 ERA, Singer is entering 2024 still relying on his strengths -- but keeping an open mind about change. After some initial pushback, Singer bought in to the Royals’ plan last year and carried the work he did at the end of the season into the offseason, honing the grips and movement on his changeup, four-seam and sweeper.

“You want to partner with the player,” Sweeney said. “He has to be on board. Does he have to use them all the time? No. His strengths are his sinker and slider. What can we add to it?”

On Wednesday, Singer made his spring debut in the Royals’ 9-7 win over the Mariners at Peoria Sports Complex, allowing one hit with three strikeouts -- all swinging on his sweeper -- in two innings. He had success with the slower sweeper, which batters were out in front on, and threw his changeup a few times, although one was hit hard by Josh Rojas for a double. The four-seam landed mostly for balls above the zone, so Singer will work on bringing the pitch down like he showed in live BP sessions last week.

“I feel like I’m throwing a lot more pitches now, so trying to command all of those is going to be a good challenge,” Singer said. “Those swings [on the sweeper] were a little bit different than what I’m used to with the [gyro] slider. That was good to see.”

With five offerings, Singer theoretically covers the whole plate and has protection if one pitch isn’t working one day. That was the Royals’ case in their PowerPoint: Singer has horizontal movement on his sinker, so the four-seam should cover the top of the zone. It’s a pitch that has good carry and “explodes on the hitter because of the true backspin,” Sweeney said.

Singer’s slider misses bats down with a biting break, but what about away for more chase? That’s where the sweeper can be used.

“It’s a different look for the hitters,” Singer said. “They can look horizontal with the slider and the sinker. Now being able to look up and down the zone, you change your eye level more. It’s going to be huge. Now it comes down to, ‘How am I going to use them all?’”

Adding a new pitch and feeling confident enough to use it in games hasn’t been easy for Singer. But that’s what the whole plan revolves around, building up the comfortability and using the pitches.

This year is a big one for Singer, being his fifth Major League season with free agency coming after the ‘26 season. The Royals believe Singer is a part of their future rotation, but this is the year he can fortify that belief with a well-rounded arsenal.

“I think just stay consistent and focus on what makes you good, but be open to learning new things at the same time,” Singer said of his goals. “Last year, I was trying to learn new things while I was struggling. I knew what I had to fix and knew it would help me this year. Now, it’s about using those pitches in the right way and competing like I know how.”