KANSAS CITY -- Royals starter Kris Bubic matched Shane Bieber’s efficiency as best he could on Tuesday night. But in the end, it’s hard to beat a pitcher who throws 99 pitches in eight innings.
That’s exactly what the Guardians' starter did against the Royals in their 4-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium, losing the series and officially clinching a losing season with their 82nd loss of the year -- with 25 games still left to play.
“The double play kicks the wind out of you,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We talk about the ability to take advantage of those [situations], just to make a mark. We can’t let those slip by when you know it’s going to be a close game with a guy like that.”
The only damage the Royals found off Bieber was Salvador Perez’s home run in the fourth, an opposite-field shot for his 20th blast of the season. It marked the sixth season in Perez’s career that he’s recorded at least 20 homers, matching Mike Sweeney for the second-most such seasons in Royals history and trailing only George Brett (eight).
Perez and Bubic did what they could to keep the Royals in the game, with Bubic turning in a quality start when he desperately needed one. In his last four starts before Tuesday, the lefty had posted a 7.45 ERA (16 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings), struggles that disrupted a strong stretch which saw Bubic put up a 3.59 ERA across 13 starts in the middle of the season.
On Tuesday, he allowed three runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, with one walk, four strikeouts and a hit batsman. Reliever Jose Cuas allowed an inherited runner score in the seventh after Bubic had allowed an infield single to Tyler Freeman.
“The mistakes were magnified,” Bubic said. “The walk to [Austin] Hedges in the third inning, and being late to cover first base at the end. Those two turn into runs. Can’t let that happen.”
Still, Bubic was pleased with his second consecutive quality start, despite both of them turning into losses for the 25-year-old. The small sample size of success has been a result of better command, and there’s been at least one reason for that.
After Bubic’s start at Tampa Bay, when he allowed four runs in 3 2/3 innings, he was throwing his bullpen session in-between starts when pitching coach Cal Eldred brought up the idea of pitching exclusively out of the stretch in order to minimize movement in Bubic’s delivery. Bubic had been thinking about doing it as well, so he made the adjustment and liked the results.
He initiated the new approach against the Padres, and the results weren’t good, with six runs in four innings. But Bubic saw better success against the White Sox last week and Guardians on Tuesday.
“I think it’s helped me keep direction more, better toward the plate,” Bubic said after his start in Chicago. “It’s about getting your body in a better position that it has leverage in. I'll have a tendency to point my foot back toward the second baseman sometimes. And as a rotational athlete, that’s tough to get out of. You almost feel stuck, can’t get all the way through and get that extra little gear that you have on your pitches.
“Keeping my foot even with the rubber can allow me to be a little more fluid and allow my body to leverage itself. Everything starts from the ground up, so just trying to use that to my advantage as much as I can.”
Bubic doesn’t get many swings-and-misses, but he got six whiffs on 14 swings with his changeup on Tuesday. He put together eight called strikes on his fastball Tuesday, and six on his curve.
“We were able to separate fastballs up and offspeed down,” Bubic said. “Any time you’re able to do that, there’s a lot of separation there for a hitter to cover. … Even when we fell behind, we still made quality pitches to get back into counts.
“Guys were putting balls in play, so I think attacking the zone with all three pitches and staying in leverage counts for the most part helped.”