Jackson Kowar’s second major-league start got past the first inning, but it didn’t go that much better than his rocky debut.
The Kansas City Royals’ right-handed pitcher and highly-regarded prospect couldn’t make it through two innings as a high pitch count and ineffectiveness forced manager Mike Matheny’s hand.
Kowar allowed four runs on five hits and three walks and the Oakland Athletics offense had just gotten warmed up as the Royals fell in an 11-2 rout in front of an announced 7,678 in the third game of a four-game set at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
The Royals (30-33) have now lost seven of eight games. They’ll wrap up their series and the seven-game West Coast road trip on Sunday afternoon.
“Once we get him a couple good innings to where he can start to get a little rhythm and start to believe in himself, trust himself, you’re going to see his stuff,” Matheny said. “We haven’t even seen it yet. He’s just fighting to get his spikes in the dirt and feel comfortable out there. Unfortunately, (it was) another really tough first one that didn’t give him a chance to really get into that rhythm.”
Kowar, the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and the No. 4-ranked prospect in the Royals farm system, had been dominant this season in the minors. The 6-foot-5, 24-year-old had been overpowering for Triple-A Omaha.
Through six starts in the minors this season, Kowar has compiled a 5-0 record with a 0.85 ERA with 0.88 WHIP and 11.65 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponent’s batted just .165 against Kowar, and he struck out 41 in 31 2/3 innings.
Through two starts in the majors, Kowar (0-2) has allowed eight earned runs on eight hits and five walks with one strikeout in two innings. He lasted 2/3 of an inning in his debut against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday.
“He just has to stay the course because the stuff that we watched him use in Omaha, it plays here and it plays really well,” Matheny said. “It’s just going to be some stepping stones to help him get there.”
Saturday, Kowar struggled with command throughout his 1 1/3 innings. He walked three of the 12 batters he faced, and he routinely left pitches in the upper half, above or outside of the strike zone. He threw nearly as many strikes (29) as balls (28).
Matheny made a mound visit in the middle of Kowar’s 34-pitch first inning. Kowar recorded his first major-league strikeout for the first out of the second inning when he got Athletics outfielder Skye Bolt on a 96 mph fastball foul-tipped into the glove of catcher Cam Gallagher.
Kowar couldn’t consistently command his fastball, and it made everything extremely difficult. He threw 37 fastballs, and just eight went for called strikes or swing-and-misses.
“There were just some simple things I didn’t do very well,” Kowar said. “Number one, I don’t know how many times I threw strike one, which is stuff you do since high school. It’s hard to get anybody out when you’re constantly 1-0.
“Falling behind, and then fastball command was just a battle all day. I was just a little quick in my delivery and riding stuff up and arm-side out of the zone. Those are two things that are really simple, and you’re not going to get a lot of outs anywhere if you’re not doing those two things.”
With those struggles, it left Kowar’s changeup — his best pitch — vulnerable. Athletics hitters didn’t swing and miss at that pitch once. The seven they put in play came off the bat with an average exit velocity of 99 mph.
Matt Chapman’s two-run double that smacked off the left-field wall in the second inning came on a changeup as did Matt Olson’s RBI double to right field in the following at-bat.
“If I’m not commanding the bottom of the zone, you’re not going to chase any changeups below the zone,” Kowar said. “So I had to bring my changeup more into the zone, and that’s when it can get hurt. That’s exactly what happened with Olson and with Chapman. Those were two decent pitches, but I wasn’t commanding the fastball well, so the effect is a lot different.”
Royals third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez went 2 for 4 with a triple, a home run and a run scored. His two-run home run in the eighth inning provided all of the Royals’ scoring. Carlos Santana walked and scored a run.
The Royals were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position, and they left the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings against Athletics starter James Kaprielian (3-1).
The Royals loaded the bases with two outs in the third on a Santana walk, but Andrew Benintendi hit an inning-ending pop-up.
In the fourth, a one-out triple by Gutierrez preceded walks by Hunter Dozier and Jarrod Dyson. Gallagher’s fly ball to right field wasn’t deep enough for Gutierrez to tag up, and Athletics shortstop Elvis Andrus fielded Nicky Lopez’s sharply-hit grounder up the middle to end the inning.
In the first three games of the series, the Royals have not scored before the seventh inning.
“It happens a lot in baseball,” Gutierrez said with assistant strength and conditioning coach/Latin American coordinator Luis Perez translating. “Sometimes you come out of the gates hot, and sometimes you wake up towards the end of the game. It all depends on what the game dictates.”
Andrus added an RBI single in the fifth against Royals reliever Ronald Bolaños, and Chapman blasted a solo home run against right-hander Carlos Hernández in the sixth.
The Athletics also tacked on five runs in the eighth inning against veteran relief pitcher Wade Davis. Bolt and Olson both homered in the eighth.