DETROIT -- The frustration was written all over Kris Bubic’s face as he strode purposefully off the field after manager Mike Matheny took the ball from him with two outs in the fifth inning. It boiled over as he reached the dugout steps, where he took off his cap and slammed it to the ground.
Bubic was long gone by the time Detroit touched Joel Payamps for back-to-back home runs to send the Royals to a 4-3 loss on Saturday at Comerica Park, but he still claimed responsibility for his role in it all. And while two runs allowed isn’t a bad day on paper for most, the way Bubic’s outing ultimately ended vexed the left-hander for a number of reasons.
Mostly, the longer he remained in the game, the longer he could do his part to control the outcome. The Royals' bullpen has been worked hard this season, but like any competitor, Bubic wanted the ball in his hands and the team on his back.
“I think always, your job as a starter is to go as deep as you can, and I haven’t been doing that as successfully as I want to the last couple of times and that I know I’m capable of,” Bubic said. “It’s just a product of kind of limiting those pitches, especially early in the game.”
Were it not for Bubic’s pitch count, Kansas City might not have trotted out four relievers in his wake, or sent Payamps -- who was just activated from the injured list prior to the game -- out for a second inning following a 1-2-3 eighth.
Even though Bubic’s outing was the same length as his last, it still represented a step in the right direction as he avoided a blowup: he allowed seven runs (four earned) last time out versus just two on Saturday.
“There were some long ABs there that racked the pitch count up, and obviously, a couple of pitches there at the end that maybe I want back, but overall, I thought execution was a lot better than it was in the previous outing, and just go onward from here,” Bubic said.
Hypotheticals aside, on Friday night, the Royals kicked off a stretch of 18 games in 17 days. In addition, they’re fresh off series against the A’s and Rangers in which the bullpen was deployed early and often, so there’s precious little margin for error as the relievers reload.
Simply put, Kansas City can’t afford for a starter to stumble right now, and every one-third of an inning of a game the rotation can unlock aids the relief corps. They know it, Matheny knows it, and the starters certainly do too.
And that’s why Bubic wished he could take back that 23-pitch first frame. Not because of the run that scored during the opening volley -- a triple and a sac fly right out of the gate -- but because it jeopardized his chance to complete at least six innings for just the second time this season.
“[Bubic] didn’t give up a lot of hard-hit balls, he just couldn’t carry his count deep into the game,” Matheny said. “… But it seemed like we were running into a lot of 2-2, 3-2 [counts] and it ended up just kind of not letting him stick around as long as we’d like to have him to stick around.”
Bubic steadily increased his pitch efficiency as he worked, throwing 19 pitches in the second, 15 in the third and 12 pitches during a fourth frame that saw him sit down the side in order. Buoyed by a two-run double from Hunter Dozier in the first and a run-scoring single from Whit Merrifield in the fourth, Bubic hit the fifth with 69 pitches under his belt and was primed to move to 3-0 in his career against the Tigers.
He came within one out of being eligible for the win before Eric Haase laced a two-out single to left with runners at the corners to bring Detroit to within one run. Out went Bubic and in came Jose Cuas (2/3 IP), Amir Garrett (2/3 IP) and newcomer Wyatt Mills (1 IP) behind him, combining to bring the Royals to within six outs of a series win.
Payamps breezed through the eighth to earn the right to keep the ball for the ninth, quickly ringing up Spencer Torkelson before Victor Reyes took a fastball deep to tie the game at 3-3.
Two pitches later, Riley Greene did the same, and it was over.
“There wasn’t really anything different [between how I approached the eighth and ninth],” Payamps said via Royals assistant strength and conditioning coach Luis Perez. “The pitches were right there; there were just different results both innings.
“Things happen along the way. There are a lot of games left, and you just forget about it and attack the [next] day.”