By Anne Rogers, MLB.com/Royals
BOSTON – Alec Marsh has been tweaking his slider all season, but the pitch he threw on Thursday night against the Red Sox was completely new.
With a new grip and new movement — and better results — it’s what helped the right-hander get through five innings in the Royals’ 2-0 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Kansas City utilized an opener for the series finale, but in an even more non-traditional route. The Royals had two relievers take the mound before Marsh entered in the fourth inning, as lefties Austin Cox and Taylor Hearn mowed down the lefty-heavy Red Sox lineup over a combined three scoreless innings.
“You go eight innings and give up two runs to any team, but especially them and in this ballpark, you like your chances,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “… Couple of unfortunate breaks, but overall, the pitching was really good.”
Marsh, ranked as the Royals’ No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, entered to begin the fourth to face the middle of Boston’s lineup. And with it, the rookie debuted a new slider. After tinkering with the pitch for several weeks, Marsh found the grip that worked in his bullpen session earlier this week.
“It was literally as simple as just changing the grips around,” Marsh said. “And I threw one in the bullpen, and we were like, ‘OK, well, that’s a big difference.’ And then, I just stuck with it.”
Because of the new movement, Statcast had a hard time registering which pitches were sliders and which were curveballs against the Red Sox. But generally, Marsh’s slider is around 84-86 mph, while his curveball typically doesn’t get above 83 mph.
For example: Marsh struck out Adam Duvall on the new slider in the bottom of the fourth. Together, those two pitches produced 10 whiffs on 21 swings from Boston hitters.
Marsh credited pitching coaches Brian Sweeney and Zach Bove for helping him find the slider that works best. Now that Marsh has shown it in games, it’s about refining it; he left a few up in the zone against the Red Sox, like the two doubles he allowed in the fifth.
“I’m just so grateful they’re being as patient with me as they are, especially because of where we’re at,” Marsh said. “I know I can be better for us and help us win games. But they’re also helping me develop faster than I feel like I’ve ever developed in this organization, and it’s been great.
Marsh has seen mixed results since making his debut against the Dodgers on June 30; he’s now 0-6 with a 6.27 ERA across eight games. But he’s also struck out 35 in 33 innings, including three on Thursday.
There are plenty of things for Marsh to work on surrounding the slider, like being more efficient and executing his pitches in the zone. Home runs have been a problem, too, with 10 allowed in the big leagues; he didn’t allow one to Boston, but Trevor Story drove a fastball to the center-field wall for an RBI double in the fourth.
“I don’t mind anything they need me to do,” Marsh said. “I’m down to do it as long as they’re doing it because we think we’re going to have the best chance to win. I still have a lot of earning the trust portion, I feel like, if I want to be a starter and go deep into games and start games.
“I’ve got to knock the walks down, [get the] pitch count down and control the run game.”
While Marsh worked his way through the Red Sox’s lineup, the Royals had ample opportunity to back him with a hit in the first seven innings. After stranding a runner on third in both the fifth and sixth, their best shot came in the seventh, when Freddy Fermin singled and went to second on Matt Beaty’s pinch-hit walk.
But Dairon Blanco struck out looking to turn the lineup over with two outs. And Maikel Garcia — who has a career-best 14-game hitting streak — struck out swinging on a cutter down the middle to end the inning.