SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals right-handed reliever Kevin McCarthy is in a curious stage of his career.
McCarthy, 28, and his sinker-slider combination have been a valuable asset to the team since his first callup in 2016. He is an innings eater. He is reliable.
In 2017 and 2018, McCarthy appeared in 98 games for the Royals and posted a more-than serviceable combined 3.23 ERA. Former manager Ned Yost loved his dependability in middle relief.
The problem is, McCarthy -- who pitched a scoreless inning in Tuesday's 6-4 victory over the D-backs -- wants to be much more than just a reliable middle reliever.
“When I first came up,” McCarthy said, “I was the guy who was supposed to just come in and throw strikes and keep the game moving along. But I’ve always felt I was more than that. I can be a back end of the bullpen guy.”
McCarthy has some obstacles to make the leap to the back end of the bullpen, and he is aware of that. Just going north with the team this spring will be challenging. McCarthy has Minor League options, and the competition for just one or two open spots in the bullpen is crowded and intense.
That’s why McCarthy spent the offseason reacquainting himself with an old friend -- his splitter.
McCarthy has not thrown the pitch since his high school days in Uniondale, N.Y. He abandoned it before attending Marist College.
“I had a changeup at the time,” McCarthy said, “and besides, it’s a tough pitch to throw. I didn’t have real command of it.”
But McCarthy wanted to add something to his repertoire. So he hooked up with his old pitching coach, Hector Duprey, and the two worked on the pitch last fall.
“I wanted to know if it would come back to me,” McCarthy said. “And after a couple of sessions it started to feel natural. I wanted something I could just bounce in the ground and get the hitters to chase. A couple of springs ago I tried a spike curve.
“I need an 0-2 pitch and maybe this is it.”
New manager Mike Matheny already is a believer. McCarthy got several swings and misses during an intrasquad game last Saturday.
“Craziest splitter I’ve ever seen,” said Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove catcher in his Major League career. “He can control it to either side. I’ve had guys with splitters where they don’t really know where it’s going. I would just play goalie with them.
“But he knows where it’s going. I think with him, it’s that he knew he needed that swing-and-miss pitch, and hopefully this is it for him.”
McCarthy’s changeup is a down-and-in pitch to righties. He wants his splitter to mainly either go down and away to righties, or just straight down.
McCarthy is amazed how easy the pitch is coming out of his hand.
“It’s the one pitch where I can just grip it and rip it,” he said. “It’s the pitch I have to think the least about. I’m more on time with it, the mechanics are good.
“I’m hoping to get those swings and misses and hopefully this will do it. So far, so good.”