ARLINGTON — When Royals starter Jonathan Heasley got into a bind in the fourth inning Thursday night against the Rangers, loading the bases with one out and Kansas City trailing by a run, manager Mike Matheny called on lefty Amir Garrett to face the top of Texas’ order and left-handed hitting Brad Miller.
Garrett admitted when he comes into those situations, he’s looking for the strikeout every time.
Although he wasn’t complaining about the results he got instead.
Garrett threw four pitches, all sliders, and got out of the jam with two pop-ups, one in foul territory, giving the Royals every chance in a game they would eventually drop, 3-1, in the series finale at Globe Life Field.
When Garrett entered in relief, the game was on the line. Heasley had allowed one run in the first inning but otherwise held off the Rangers despite four walks in 3 1/3 innings. Making his first big league start of the year, Heasley reached 80 pitches after allowing a leadoff single and walking two in the fourth inning.
“Things could have easily got away there,” Heasley said. “They could have built a bigger gap. So that was clutch by Amir. I know these guys got my back.”
Garrett threw a first-pitch slider to Miller for a ball, but then threw another up in the zone. Miller — who homered later in the game — swung and popped up to third baseman Emmanuel Rivera. Then Rangers catcher Jonah Heim swung through a low slider before fouling off another up in the zone.
Right fielder Whit Merrifield was there to catch it.
“We talk a lot about leverage, and I think most people think right away that’s seventh, eighth, ninth [innings],” Matheny said. “But right there in the fourth, that’s the biggest part of the game.”
Garrett genuinely enjoys the big moments, and he wants to be in situations like Thursday’s — no matter what inning.
“Essentially, that’s the ballgame right there,” Garrett said. “If those guys score, now they’re up 4-0 or whatever. I love those situations. I want to be in those situations more. I’m just here to help the team as much as I can.”
Garrett’s slider has always been dominant for him, and it was part of the reason the Royals’ traded for Garrett this offseason, sending starter Mike Minor to the Reds and enhancing their bullpen with a high-powered lefty.
Garrett, who has a 2.70 ERA, has thrown his slider 114 times over his 10 innings on the mound this season, and hitters have recorded just two hits off it.
The 30-year-old throws his slider 73 percent of the time, but the way he manipulates the grip and the spin on it really gives him three pitches in one. Not only does that allow him to throw it as much as he does and keep hitters off balance, it gives him a weapon against right-handers.
When Garrett went back out for what would be a perfect fifth inning, he struck out right-hander Adolis García swinging on a slider up and in.
“It can look like a cutter, I can go backdoor, it can look like a changeup,” Garrett said. “I can have a wipeout slider. Just getting better every day and keeping the hitters guessing, that’s what I’m trying to do. I only have two pitches, so [the variations] give me more.”
The effectiveness of Garrett’s slider allows him to place his fastball when and where he wants it. He’s thrown 41 fastballs this season without a hit allowed on the pitch.
“Looks great,” said Matheny, who was a big advocate for acquiring Garrett this offseason after watching him pitch for years with the Reds and while managing the Cardinals. “He’s making really smart pitches with the fastball, too, and he’s got some good life on it.”
Garrett gave the Royals every chance to win the finale and inject some momentum as they head to Colorado for the final leg of this nine-game road trip. But the offense mustered just one hit in seven innings, and even though they strung three singles together in the eighth to score a run, their struggles with runners in scoring position returned.
Kansas City left nine on base and was 1-for-6 with RISP.
“We need a big hit in that situation,” Matheny said.
The Royals targeted Garrett to assemble the best bullpen they could, with the hope that it could pick up the young rotation. For the most part, the bullpen has done that — Garrett included.
Now, the offense must do its part.
“Everything is going to come together,” Garrett said. “The pitching, the hitting. Right now, it seems like it’s one or the other. But when we all figure out how to mesh together, it’s going to be scary here.”