Kowar unleashes the slider

It isn't reflected in the box score, but Jackson Kowar delivered a fine start for the Royals on Tuesday. Adding the slider to his arsenal shows some immediate promise.

A 7-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles is nobody’s idea of a good time.

Baltimore hitters pounced on mistakes. On the other side, the Royals bats couldn’t solve the mystery of the Orioles pitching. It made for a frustrating evening of baseball as two second-division teams are playing out the string.

However, there’s still plenty to play for. Especially for the Royals’ young starting rotation. At least with a focus on next season. It wasn’t the prettiest outing, but Jackson Kowar did alright.

The duality of the first

Kowar didn’t have the best start to his evening. Things went at least partially sideways in the first when he couldn’t command his fastball to the first batter he faced, Cedric Mullins. He followed that up by spotting a couple of changeups well off the intended target and walking Ryan Mountcastle.

Denny Mathews likes to point out leadoff walks in the late innings of a close game as often being fatal. He’s not wrong. But he probably has something similar about issuing free passes to the first two batters a starting pitcher encounters on the evening.

Because from this point onward in the inning, Kowar started making some strong pitches, getting Oriole batters to chase. He jumped ahead of Anthony Santander with a called strike on the inside edge and a nasty slider that came down and in.

Whew. That is just a wicked pitch.

Kowar went to the change on 0-2 off the plate but couldn’t get Santander to offer. He went back to the same location on 1-2.

This is not a bad offering. Not at all. Santander rolls over on it and hits it on the ground, which is what you want with runners on first and second. Except it beats the shift and rolls into right-center, scoring a run.

Kowar likewise jumped ahead of the next batter, Austin Hays, 0-2.

In this case, he did it by locating his fastball perfectly. The first pitch was down for a called strike. The second was off the outside edge that was swung at and missed for strike two. Kowar went to his changeup and it was damn near perfect.

The change was right on both corners. Now from watching the rest of the game, it probably wouldn’t have been called a strike, but damn if that’s not just an insane pitch. Hays was way out in front and got it off the end of his bat to pull foul. He managed to stay alive by the slimmest of margins.

Like Santander in the previous battle, Kowar went to a slider off the plate on 0-2. Hayes spit on this for ball one. Kowar came with the same pitch in the same location on 1-2. Hays put this one in play for a ground out that scored the Orioles second run of the frame.

Pedro Severino was next. Kowar carved him straight up. A fastball up to start, followed slider just off the plate, and Kowar had two swinging strikes and was ahead 0-2. The next four-seamer was just unfair.

I mean, look at that arm-side run. It looks like it’s going to be a waste pitch off the outer edge, then it rides back over the outside corner and right into the target of Salvador Perez. Severino had no chance.

At this point, Kowar is so close to finishing out the inning after allowing the first three batters to face with close to minimal damage. He just needed to get around DJ Stewart.

Kowar opened with a changeup that fluttered and dropped in the dirt.

Again, that pitch is just filthy. To get that kind of swing and miss on that? I don’t know about you, but I’m getting some strong wiffleball vibes off that pitch. The way it just kind of darts at the last instant underneath Stewart’s bat and how it bounces when Perez blocks it. There’s just some really strange (and fun) movement happening on that pitch.

After going up on the fastball, Kowar went back to the low changeup. This time, Stewart didn’t miss.

Wall scraper. Michael A. Taylor had a long way to run and obviously didn’t get a proper feel for the location of the wall. I sure would’ve liked for him to have measured it better so he could’ve jumped for that. Could he have pulled off a robbery like Andrew Benintendi did the previous evening? I’d like to think so.

Defense aside, go back to the location of the changeup that Kowar delivered. It was down on the bottom edge of the strike zone. It was a well-located pitch, one that is rarely hit over the wall.

It’s a four run inning, and yeah, that’s not what you want, but the way Kowar navigated the self-made jam of walking the first two batters is incredibly encouraging. He missed badly to the first two batters, made some sort of adjustment on the fly and started making some really exceptional pitches.

We saw this again in the third when he allowed a leadoff single, followed by his worst pitch of the night, a middle-middle hanging slider that was begging to be demolished. Spoiler alert: It was. But from there, Kowar got three strikeouts, all swinging and missing, all on the change. Another nice recovery.

So while the final line of six runs allowed in six innings is nobody’s idea of a good outing, I would beg to differ. Mildly. The runs are what they are, but Kowar actually made very few mistakes. He was just punished for just about every one he made. But the pitches were working.

Unleash the slider

Kowar got four whiffs on his fastball, six on the slider and seven on the change. Apart from the fat slider he threw to Hays in the third that was obliterated, that was a very promising pitch on the evening. Overall, Kowar had a 52 percent whiff rate on his secondary pitches. Give me that every time he’s on the mound and I like his chances.

The slider is something Kowar didn’t show in his first go-around with the big league club. He actually worked on adding the pitch after he was sent back to Triple-A in June, as a pitch that would run opposite his change and fastball. He broke off a few in his return to the rotation last week and now he went extremely slider-heavy in his second September start. And the way that pitch was working (aside from the hanger that was destroyed) it was a plus-pitch for Kowar.

Here’s a slider from later in the game against former Royal Kelvin Gutierrez.

You can see the ball run glove side, which does give a different look from the fastball and change, which both tail arm-side. In the gif above, it’s a tasty looking pitch, a bit elevated and looking like it’s going to hang in the middle. But the late movement to the outer edge is what makes the pitch a success.

So despite the unattractive pitching line, this was far from a poor outing for Kowar. The mix of pitches was at times lethal. I’m excited to see more.