October 2, 2022

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Bullpen has rare slip-up, rally comes up short in chilly loss

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CHICAGO — After being shut down and no-hit for five innings against White Sox starter Dylan Cease on Wednesday afternoon in chilly Chicago, the Royals’ offense clawed its way back from a three-run deficit to tie the game in the late innings.

But the Kansas City bullpen, steady and reliable for most of the small sample size of 2022, wasn’t able to hold it down like the team is used to seeing.

Reliever Collin Snider gave up a pair of two-out singles in the seventh before Andrew Vaughn took reliever Scott Barlow deep on the first pitch he threw for a three-run homer in the Royals’ 7-3 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field, setting up a rubber match in Thursday’s series finale.

With a tie game in the bottom of the seventh, manager Mike Matheny turned to Snider to face the bottom of the White Sox order. The rookie entered Wednesday with a 1.35 ERA in 6 2/3 innings, has delivered in these situations before and was on his way to doing it again when he struck out Reese McGuire and got a groundout from Adam Engel for two quick outs.

Danny Mendick blooped a single with a 74 mph exit velocity into left field, then Tim Anderson roped an opposite-field single into right field.

“It didn’t really speed up on me at all,” Snider said. “I felt like I was still in control. I saw the exit velocity on the board and the first one was like 76 mph. I’m kind of accustomed to that with the type of pitcher I am. Same thing with Anderson, I got in, he sent it the other way. That’s going to happen.

“Soft contact is soft contact, in my book. It’s kind of one of those, ‘Live with it and move onto the next day.’”

Barlow was ready in the ‘pen for the middle of the order. The right-hander entered Wednesday with a 2.78 lifetime ERA against the White Sox, including two earned runs in eight innings over seven games last season. Wednesday’s situation was one Matheny has put Barlow in many times, and one the reliable reliever has gotten the Royals out of, too.

“Get in a spot right in the middle of their order, a lot of damage to be done,” Matheny said. “We love Scott in those situations to go through the meat of their order. Go, ‘All right, here we go.’ We came up on the short end of that.”

Vaughn ambushed Barlow on a first-pitch fastball, which was supposed to be down and away in the zone but was left up and over the plate instead. In hindsight, Barlow said, he would have gone with his slider, a pitch he’s thrown 45.5 percent of the time in his 8 1/3 innings this year.

“Typically in that situation, they’re pretty aggressive,” Barlow said. “Looking back, definitely [should have gone] probably slider, that’s been my pitch all year so far. But left [a fastball] over the middle. Ambush, looking for it, good hitters don’t miss.”

Perhaps more concerning than the pitch selection and location was the velocity of Barlow’s fastball: 91.7 mph. The right-hander’s velocity has been significantly down all season; he averaged 95.3 mph on the pitch last season and is now averaging 92.9 mph.

While Barlow has noticed the drop, he’s not worried, referencing the small sample size and the elements the Royals have faced so far this season. It’s been a cold and windy April across the Midwest, and Wednesday was the coldest day yet. The temperature at first pitch was 39 degrees with 15-mph winds going from left field to right field.

“You look at through the day, but it usually evens out by the end of the season,” Barlow said. “You’re loosened up a bit better. I’ll usually kind of find it in the middle of the season. It would be one thing if I was hurting, and struggling, but body feels good and arm feels really good. So I know that’ll be the thing that will just come.

“I’ve already kind of flushed [the outing]. Looked at it, analyzed it, what can I do better and improve on? And then move on.”

The bullpen couldn’t back up starter Zack Greinke’s quality start after he tossed six innings and allowed three runs on five hits with four strikeouts. And when the offense finally capitalized on Cease in the middle innings, the Royals’ bullpen could’ve been able to shut things down.

“[Cease isn’t] going to give you too many opportunities, so when you get them, you got to take advantage,” said Whit Merrifield, who drove in two runs. “… It’s just one of those days.”

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