SEATTLE — The Royals weren’t planning on Saturday night’s matchup against the Mariners being a bullpen game. And they certainly don’t want 2022 to turn into a bullpen year.
Royals firemen were forced to rescue struggling starter Kris Bubic, who lasted only two-plus innings. Their brilliance from the first week and a half of the season continued, for a while. But like a trusty bungee cord that has shouldered quite a load early this season, too much weight eventually led to a snap.
Jake Brentz, the sixth Kansas City reliever of the night, started the bottom of the eighth by walking four consecutive Mariners and then gave up a two-run double to Jesse Winker. Dylan Coleman came in and allowed a three-run home run to Ty France to seal a 13-7 loss.
“I just didn’t have it tonight,” Brentz said. “It’s unacceptable to go out there and put my team in a hole like that. … I’ll be better and everybody’s just done a great job this year and been pretty dominant. So we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Royals relievers entered the game with a 24 2/3-inning scoreless streak. They had not allowed a run since the seventh inning nine days earlier, on April 14, against the Tigers. Through that span, they held opposing batters to a .101 (8-for-79) average with 27 strikeouts. But manager Mike Matheny would have preferred if Bubic could have gone six or seven innings, particularly after Friday night’s game, in which starter Brad Keller didn’t make it out of the fifth.
While Bubic was more in command of his stuff in this outing, walking one batter compared to a career-high six in his previous start, he wasn’t missing many Seattle bats.
Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford ambushed him for a two-run home run in the first inning, and two painfully long frames followed. The Mariners sent seven batters to the plate in the second, scratching out another two runs on RBI singles by France and Jarred Kelenic. And in the third, Bubic gave up consecutive doubles to Eugenio Suárez and Abraham Toro for another run before Matheny pulled him.
“It just comes back to putting myself in good counts,” said Bubic, whose season ERA climbed to 14.14. “Make quality pitches and things will usually fall your way in terms of strikes and balls and balls in play and stuff like that. I’m just going to have to put myself in a better spot going forward.”
That’s what the bullpen did … for a good portion of the game, at least.
When the Royals’ first reliever of the game, Joel Payamps, entered, the team was down 5-1. Payamps shut out Seattle for one inning, striking out one. Right-hander Ronald Bolaños entered next and shut out Seattle for 1 1/3 innings, striking out two. Lefty Amir Garrett followed with a scoreless frame of his own, punching out two.
And by the time righty Collin Snyder finally gave up a run on a Suárez double in the sixth, the Royals had completed a streak of 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless bullpen innings — good for fourth-best in club history.
This allowed them to claw back into the game, with Kansas City’s offense coming alive following a recent rut. While the relievers continued to deal, they put together a pair of three-run outbursts in the fifth and seventh innings. In the latter frame, Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer and pinch-hitter Edward Olivares gave Kansas City a brief 7-6 lead with an RBI double.
The Mariners struck again in the bottom of the seventh, though, nicking right-hander Josh Staumont for the game-tying run on France’s RBI single, and then Brentz’s wildness took over the eighth.
“We had a couple of situations where we got to two strikes in really big situations, 1-2, 0-2 [counts] and an opportunity to put something away and keep that lead, and that’s a big swing in momentum,” Matheny said.
“And then, you know, sometimes you’re just going to have bad days.”
Matheny chose to accentuate the positives that have emerged this early in the season. The bullpen has been terrific so far and was excellent for much of Saturday, prior to the pivotal inning. The offense might just be back on track. And the Royals survived a scare when X-rays came back negative on the left hand of catcher Salvador Perez, who was hit by a pitch and exited the game. He is considered day to day.
“Some guys put together some really good at-bats,” Matheny said. “They fought and that’s the first step. We’ve just got to be able to finish it and put it away.”