KC Royals: Early trouble haunts rookie hurler again

Jackson Kowar, making his fourth start since being recalled from Triple-A Omaha and continuing his efforts to atone for his miserable three-game major league debut earlier this season, pitched well Sunday for the KC Royals.

Unfortunately, Kowar’s good performance came too late to help the Royals against Seattle, and fell far short of alleviating concerns about his second chance in the majors.

Instead, Kowar had only one commendable inning, and it was his last of the day. He retired Ty France, Abraham Toro and Mitch Haniger—the second, third and fourth hitters in the Mariners’ lineup—in order in the fourth before Manager Mike Matheny replaced him with Scott Blewett to start the fifth. It was a move whose time had come.

By then, Kowar’s pitch count was a high 96, and he’d surrendered five runs on seven hits and walked three. His control and command spotty at best, and his ERA elevated to 11.45, Kowar needed to exit.

Kowar was digging his hole from the start: he gave up a double and two walks to load the bases with one out in the first, then dished up a double to Jarred Kelenic that gave the M’s an early 2-0 lead.

Kowar allowing a walk and two singles in the second increased Seattle’s lead by a run.

Then, the solo homers he gave up to Kelenic and Jake Bauers in the third made it 5-0 Mariners.

Those unsightly three frames weren’t much different than two of Kowar’s previous three starts following his recall. Although he allowed only two runs in six innings Sept. 1 against Cleveland, Baltimore scored six against him six days later, and Oakland whacked him for five in a bit more than an inning Sept. 14. His September ERA is 9.52, and he’s 0-2 for the month.

Kowar’s introduction to the big leagues in June wasn’t much different—he went 0-2 and surrendered 10 runs in five innings.

Not much time remains in the season for Kowar to show improvement. The KC Royals have 14 games left after their 7-1 loss to Seattle Sunday; with their short-lived six-man rotation now looking more like a five-man after the club shut down Brad Keller for the season, Kowar may not get more than two starts before the campaign closes in two weeks.

But the most important thing for Kowar isn’t whether he gets two or three starts. Instead, he must shake the control and command issues that hamper him as soon as his games begin—he’s surrendered 13 first-inning runs in six starts, seven in the four times he’s pitched a second frame, and four in his three third-inning opportunities.

Failing to improve may destine Kowar for a Triple-A assignment to begin 2022.

Kowar’s pitching was the main, but not only, reason for the KC Royals’ loss.

Causation for Sunday’s defeat doesn’t lie exclusively with Jackson Kowar. Mariners’ starter Logan Gilbert, like Kowar a rookie, bore little resemblance to the pitcher who Kansas City battered for five runs and nine hits in four innings a little more than three weeks ago at Seattle. He mastered the Royals in this one, allowing them only one run and three hits in seven frames.

And he didn’t give KC a hit until Michael A. Taylor singled to lead off the third; after that, no Royal reached base until Whit Merrifield doubled with two out in the sixth.

Kansas City, in fact, mustered only the three hits and one run Gilbert surrendered. Salvador Perez, Hanser Alberto, Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana, Adalberto Mondesi, Kyle Isbel, Hunter Dozier, and Sebastian Rivero were a combined 0-for-21.

The KC Royals, now 67-82 and 2.5 games out of last place in the American League Central, set out on their last road trip of the season with a Monday doubleheader in Cleveland.