KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Early Tuesday, Rick Renteria said he hoped Dylan Covey would trust the White Sox defense and the movement on his pitches and attack hitters.
While Covey eventually reached that point and got into a nice rhythm, the adjustment didn’t happen until it was too late. The rookie pitcher walked three batters in the first inning and dearly paid for it before he settled down. Covey yielded a Brandon Moss grand slam that propelled the Kansas City Royals to a 4-3 victory over the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
“I was struggling with command early on and you’d like to make the adjustment on your next pitch and that’s what I was trying to do,” Covey said. “It came a little later for me. I think halfway through the Moss at-bat I started kind of getting in the rhythm and got a feel for it. Unfortunately, he got a hold of one, but the walks did me in.”
The no-doubter Moss hit was the only damage Kansas City did against Covey, who was otherwise outstanding. The right-hander recovered almost instantly and offered the potential the White Sox saw when they selected him in the Rule 5 draft last December. Covey retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced and lasted into the sixth inning.
Covey recorded five outs on grounders and induced a bunch of weak contact in the air, essentially becoming the pitcher the White Sox hope he develops into.
But before Moss’s round-tripper, Covey wasn’t the same.
He started the game with a six-pitch walk to Whit Merrifield, including two fastballs that were just off the edge of the zone. Two batters later, Covey just missed with two more fastballs and a slider in a four-pitch walk of Eric Hosmer.
The trend continued against Salvador Perez, though the misses weren’t as close to the zone in a seven-pitch walk. After Covey jumped ahead of Moss 1-2 in the count, he missed low with two fastballs and put himself in an unenviable position and Moss made him pay with a 430-foot homer.
“A lesson learned,” Renteria said. “He was working on the fringes and didn’t have his best command early.
Why Covey might tend to nibble at times is understandable. He has taken his fair share of lumps during his rookie campaign, allowing 17 home runs in 49 innings before Tuesday.
But the White Sox think Covey’s capable of getting outs with his sinker and want him to trust it and avoid walks. As Jeff Samardzija often notes, home runs are going to happen — it’s better they do with nobody on.
Covey walked four batters on Tuesday, which raised his total to 27 free passes in 54.2 innings.
“I’ve kind of been prone to the deep ball a lot this year, and I wouldn’t say it’s in the back of mind but these are big-league hitters so I need to throw my best stuff up there,” Covey said. “One of the things is just learning just to trust myself and trust it in the zone and not try to nibble too much at the corners because that’s when I can get into trouble and start putting guys on base.”
Covey said he felt good with the adjustment he made after the grand slam. He and pitching coach Don Cooper talked about the importance of getting ahead early on the bench and Covey saw the impact. While he fell behind by four runs, Covey kept the White Sox within striking distance and they nearly rallied to win it. The White Sox had the tying and go-ahead runs on in the ninth only to come up empty.
“The story for him was once that happened he came back and attacked the strike zone,” Renteria said. “ He did a really nice job. After the initial blow in the first for him to come back and keep us in the ballgame was pretty impressive.”