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No. 6 prospect Bubic comes into his own

Left-hander bounces back from early jitters in MLB debut
@FlannyMLB
August 1, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- One would understand, and even expect, a young pitcher making his MLB debut to be a little nervous or perhaps too amped up. That seemed to be the case for left-hander Kris Bubic, the Royals’ No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline and somewhat of a surprise choice

KANSAS CITY -- One would understand, and even expect, a young pitcher making his MLB debut to be a little nervous or perhaps too amped up.

That seemed to be the case for left-hander Kris Bubic, the Royals’ No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline and somewhat of a surprise choice to be Kansas City’s starter for its home opener on Friday night against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals lost to Chicago, 3-2.

Box score

Bubic, who has never pitched above Class A Wilmington, struggled getting his fastball and his changeup down in the zone, especially early. He threw 76 pitches, and 37 came in above the belt.

“A little bit amped up,” Bubic said. “My fastball command throughout the night wasn’t what I wanted. I was able to fall back on the changeup.

“It’s good to get the first start out of the way. But down the road, I need to have better fastball command and get in better counts. Overall, it was a positive experience.”

Bubic twice hung changeups to Tim Anderson in the first two innings that resulted in a double and a single.

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Manager Mike Matheny and catcher Salvador Perez recognized Bubic was overexcited early on.

“I did talk to him between innings,” Perez said. “Just [to] calm down. He’s got good pitches.”

Bubic hit White Sox catcher James McCann twice, once in the helmet and once on the left forearm. And after the first time, Adam Engel, the next batter, pounced on a changeup that floated over the middle of the plate and parked it over the left-field fence for a three-run home run.

“For me, I have longer arm action,” Bubic said, “so the tendency is for me to be late, where my body drifts out and my arm has to catch up.”

Added Matheny, “He didn’t keep them honest at that point. They have to go hand in hand, control the zone with his fastball and set up the changeup. And if you don’t set it up, you get to where hitters are looking [for the changeup].”

But Bubic, 22, seemed to calm himself after the home run, allowing just one hit over his final 2 2/3 innings.

And Bubic demonstrated why the Royals are so high on his potential. His changeup, when located, can be devastating and one of the main reasons he led all of Minor League Baseball with 185 strikeouts in 2019.

Bubic struck out José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal back to back in the third inning with changeups down in the zone. Grandal was so fooled that his bat went flying over the White Sox dugout.

“He kept attacking the zone, trusting his stuff,” Matheny said, “and he got better as he went. You watch some of the swings they had in the lineup, with all three pitches, and you can see why we’re so excited about Kris Bubic. He held his composure, even without fastball command.”

And finishing strong was a big boost for Bubic.

“I had some trouble in the second. Long inning, took some energy out of me,” he said. “But I wanted to keep the score right there. And for me, it was good to bounce back.”

Bubic went four innings and scattered three hits and two earned runs, walking one and striking out three. He became just the sixth starting pitcher in the past 13 years to make his MLB debut without ever pitching above Class A.

The others:
Nick Margevicius (Padres), March 30, 2019
José Fernández (Marlins), April 7, 2013
Mike Leake (Reds), April 11, 2010
Rick Porcello (Tigers), April 9, 2009
Rick Van Den Hurk (Marlins), April 10, 2007

The most important element to Bubic’s night was that he kept the Royals in it.

Ryan McBroom hit his first Major League home run in the sixth inning for the Royals, a blast that traveled a Statcast-estimated 426 feet and brought the Royals to within 3-2.

Left-fielder Alex Gordon held the line in the seventh when he gunned down Nick Madrigal, who was trying to score from second base on a single by Leury Garcia. It was Gordon’s 99th career assist, the most in baseball since 2010.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.