KANSAS CITY -- Cole Ragans gave a great first impression when he made his Royals debut on July 15 in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Rays. He flashed everything the Royals wanted to see from their new starter, whom they acquired in the trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to Texas in late June. But he had plenty of things to work on, too,
Two weeks later, Ragans was even better.
The Royals’ lefty got another opportunity -- this one for more than a spot start -- in the big league rotation when the club traded Ryan Yarbrough to the Dodgers on Tuesday at the Trade Deadline. It opened a spot for Ragans, who tossed six scoreless innings in the Royals’ 4-0 victory over the Mets on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Ragans’ first win as a Royal was the team’s fifth consecutive win as it clinched the series over the Mets. Kansas City jumped out to an early lead against Mets starter Kodai Senga and didn’t look back, while Ragans mowed the Mets down with eight strikeouts and one walk.
“Ever since I got here, I feel like every chance I get to throw, I try to prove that they made a good move bringing me here,” Ragans said. “I’m excited for the opportunity.”
The Mets didn’t have an answer for Ragans’ mix of pitches that garnered a called strike/whiff percentage of 38 percent. His fastball averaged 95 mph but hit 97 at times, his changeup registered five whiffs on 13 swings and his looping curveball kept the Mets off balance.
And the cutter that Ragans threw? It was actually two separate pitches: His normal cutter had the higher velocity, around 89-90, but his new-and-improved slider was around 83-84 mph.
That’s a new pitch the 25-year-old only started throwing when he got to Triple-A Omaha after the trade.
“That was something that he presented to us,” Royals senior director of pitching Paul Gibson said. “We asked what he wanted to work on. He said, ‘I want to be better against left-handed hitters, and I think the slider is the way to do that.’ We thought the same thing, so let’s go get it.”
In Ragan’s first start for Omaha on July 2, he gave up five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Six of those eight hits were against lefties. One was a Statcast-projected 431-foot three-run home run from Matt Mervis, a left-handed batter -- off a cutter.
Shortly after that outing, Ragans brought up the idea of a slider -- which he’s thrown before but inconsistently -- to Triple-A pitching coach Dane Johnson and the rest of the Royals staff.
“Dane and I, in catch play and bullpens, we found a grip that was comfortable and the movement was consistent,” Ragans said. "We took it and ran with it.”
The slider gives Ragans more separation from his fastball, especially against lefties, who tend to adjust to the cutter quickly and hammer it. Because of that, Ragans has stark reverse splits; lefties are hitting .297 off him in the Majors this season, righties just .213.
In a small sample size, the slider has been an equalizer for Ragans.
“I’m getting the swing and miss versus lefties now,” Ragans said after four of his eight strikeouts came against lefties Wednesday. “I feel like the slider’s really come in handy because it’s got more movement. It’s a velo difference and movement difference from the fastball, where the cutter is small velo, small movement difference where they can adjust their barrel.”
Before his start in Omaha last Thursday, Ragans went to the team’s hitting coach, Bijan Rademacher, and asked about a scouting report he would give to lefty hitters against Ragans.
“He came back and told me, ‘You never double up on your slider,’” Ragans said. “So that outing, I doubled up, tripled up. You have to honor it, along with the curveball, mixing in more changeups.
"Having an even mix against both lefties and righties. They’re not going up there sitting on the fastball and adjusting their barrel if I throw the cutter 3-4 mph off, hold back and shoot it opposite field.”
Ragans was not afraid to bring that game plan to Kansas City on Wednesday. In the fourth inning, he threw Brett Baty three straight sliders. Baty took an 0-2 slider for a ball but got caught in between on the next one for a called third strike.
Now that Ragans has shown that pitch, adjustments will have to be made the next time out. But he’s up for the challenge -- and ready for the continued opportunity.
“That’s what it’s all about,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “No one is guaranteed to have any opportunities in this game and for the guys that are getting them here, that’s what they’re here to do. Seize that moment.”