DETROIT -- The Royals spent much of their offseason trying to figure out ways to improve what was the worst bullpen (5.04 ERA) in the American League last season.
The Royals re-signed Wily Peralta, who was 14-for-14 in save opportunities. They signed free agents Jake Diekman and Brad Boxberger, both of whom had a successful track record in the big leagues. Kansas City took two pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft. And it hatched the idea of converting veteran starter Ian Kennedy to a late-inning guy.
Granted, the sample size is laughably small, but early on, Royals manager Ned Yost’s bullpen has not been better.
Kansas City's bullpen, which ranks 14th in the AL with a 7.45 ERA, has already directly contributed to three losses. After blowing leads Tuesday and Wednesday against the Twins, the latest eyesore came Thursday against the Tigers when Royals relievers walked the first four hitters they faced in a 3-3 game in what turned into a 5-4 loss.
What could have been a 5-1 start for Kansas City is instead a 2-4 record -- and the bullpen is the main culprit.
“In a tie ballgame, you really try to refrain from walking the first four guys,” Yost said.
Zimmer wasn’t blaming the conditions -- 39 degrees at first pitch.
“It was cold out there, but it was cold out there for everyone,” Zimmer said. “You've got to find a way to throw strikes. Coming out of the bullpen, you have to throw strikes and force contact. I was trying to. There’s no excuse. I cost the team a win today. That’s on me.”
Walks have been a big issue. The Royals’ bullpen has 17, tied for the most in the AL.
“The problem right now is we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Yost said. “We fall behind in the count and then give up some fat pitches.”
Yet Yost firmly believes Kansas City's bullpen will bounce back and won't struggle the way it did last season.
“I just think we've got better stuff this year than last year,” Yost said before Thursday's game. “I think Diekman is going to settle in fine, Peralta will settle in fine, [Kyle] Zimmer will settle in fine, [Kevin McCarthy] will settle in fine, Timmy [Hill] will settle in fine.”
Yost isn’t sure what the overall issues have been. Everyone in the bullpen has had hiccups through six games.
“For some reason right now, they lack a little conviction,” Yost said. “I don’t know if it’s because we started with nine relievers and they knew someone was going to go when we cut back to eight, and they were pressing or what.”
In Wednesday’s loss, Diekman gave up a 6-4 lead in the eighth and then Peralta gave up the go-ahead run in the ninth. Peralta led off the ninth with a walk, which is never a way to please your manager. A stolen base and a single then gave the Twins a 7-6 lead.
“Diekman isn’t going to press,” Yost said. “He’s banging strikes. If you’re going to get beat, get beat being aggressive. But don’t walk the leadoff guy and then [give up a] stolen base. That’s the stuff that really [ticks] you off. ... Just attack.”
Yost said once the Royals get into more of a daily routine -- they have three off-days within the first eight days of the season -- his bullpen will improve.
“We’ve just got to get through it,” he said.