Bubic moved to 'pen amid starting struggles

May 6th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Following his shortest start of the year on Wednesday against the Cardinals, when he allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning, lefty Kris Bubic will pitch out of the bullpen for the Royals and could be pitching in relief as early as Saturday -- or whenever the Royals play their next game.

Manager Mike Matheny announced the move shortly after Friday’s series opener against the Orioles was postponed because of heavy rains pouring down the East Coast. The teams will play Saturday’s regularly scheduled game at 6:05 p.m. CT at Camden Yards -- although there is rain in the forecast all day -- and then play a straight doubleheader Sunday beginning at 12:35 p.m. CT.

Bubic will be available in relief both of those days and for the foreseeable future. The 24-year-old made the Royals’ rotation out of Spring Training but has struggled mightily, posting a 13.14 ERA in five starts and only pitching 12 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .340 against him, and he has a 2.35 WHIP.

The Royals hope that a move to the ‘pen will allow him to concentrate on his game plan and executing pitches. Bubic has been a reliever before; he has a 3.08 ERA across 26 1/3 relief innings in his short career, all of which came last season and allowed him to win a rotation spot to finish out 2021. The Royals have Amir Garrett and Gabe Speier as their top lefties in the bullpen, but Bubic could see short and long relief stints. Matheny emphasized the Royals must find opportunities to get Bubic on the mound.

“We’ve seen it -- the ‘pen got him a little bit more locked in on the breaking ball,” Matheny said Friday. “Kept telling him how good his breaking ball was, didn’t believe it until he came in a big situation. He needed to feel it and see it. That’s where he is. He’s going to get through this, but right now, it’s not fun going through it.”

Bubic was blunt and honest about his performance after Wednesday’s game, saying he’s “as frustrated as he’s ever felt on a baseball field.”

But despite the early struggles, the Royals aren’t giving up on one of their top 2018 Draft picks.

“This is a necessary evolution. He’s just got to figure out some things about himself,” Matheny said. “I told him, and I’ve said this before, he’s going to have as long of a career as anybody in that room. His pitchability, adaptability, deception, life, everything. But he’s got to figure this out.

“I’ve watched too many guys through it. But once they find that balance, that’s when they take off. You just got to struggle your way through it. And right now, he’s struggling his way through it.”

Matheny was not ready to announce what this means for the Royals’ fifth starter spot. The team could need it as soon as Wednesday against the Rangers; right-hander Carlos Hernández is scheduled to pitch Saturday’s game, and Daniel Lynch and Zack Greinke are the probable starters for Sunday’s doubleheader.

That lines up Brad Keller for Tuesday’s series opener in Texas.

The Royals have a few options for the fifth starter. The obvious one is Brady Singer. An opening like this was why he was optioned to Triple-A to get stretched out as a starter. While he’s pitched well in two starts there, allowing just one run on four hits in 7 1/3 innings, he’s only built up to about 60 pitches. Plus, the minimum for pitchers to stay in the Minors upon being optioned is 15 days unless they serve as the 27th man for a doubleheader or replace a player who is on the injured list; Singer was optioned April 28 and couldn’t return until May 13.

On the active roster, they could give Ronald Bolaños a spot start. The right-hander is stretched out to about three innings out of the bullpen, but he pitched well as a starter to begin the season in Triple-A Omaha, posting a 3.38 ERA in three starts.

Jonathan Heasley is another option in Triple-A. The right-hander is on the 40-man roster and has a 3.63 ERA in 22 1/3 innings (five starts), with four walks and 23 strikeouts.