On all-too-rare day of hope for Kansas City Royals, Brady Singer took an important step

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Let’s start with a disclaimer: The compelling moments have been fleeting, few and far between for the 2023 Royals. Through Sunday, after all, they’d won 18 times in 59 games and generally given fans far more reason to look away than follow along day by day. Calling it an “evaluation season” doesn’t diminish the agony of all this defeat.

Just the same, well, the Royals actually will be playing out the season. And not often enough but every few days, nonetheless, they create a little glimmer of what might be — and a snapshot of how they could gain some traction back toward competitiveness.

Sunday was the latest one of those rare days. Not so much in the result itself, a 2-0 win over Colorado at Kauffman Stadium that ended a three-game losing streak, but in the whys and whos of how it happened.

Here was 23-year-old Maikel Garcia enhancing his bid to become part of the core of the future by smacking his first major-league home run in the eighth inning to provide the final margin.

And there was resurgent Michael Massey (not yet 11 months in the big leagues) driving in MJ Melendez (13 months) with the only run the Royals needed three innings before.

Meanwhile, a veteran bullpen bolstering its trade value provided 3.1 innings of scoreless relief from Taylor Clarke (1 1/3 innings for his 13th straight scoreless appearance), Aroldis Chapman (who struck out two of the three men he faced) and Scott Barlow — who allowed for some drama surrendering two hits but emerged unscathed by striking out three in the ninth.

All good stuff that could well figure in the future in varying ways.

But the most encouraging performance came from one of the players most pivotal to any Royals revival: pitcher Brady Singer, who had appeared to come into his own last season only to become an enigma once more this season.

Simply put, Singer was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA last season. Entering the game Sunday, he was 3-4 with a 7.12 ERA this season.

On this day, though, Singer essentially resumed his 2022 form with his best outing of the season. In 5 2/3 innings, Singer allowed no runs, five hits, struck out seven and gave out no walks.

That means over the last 10 games, by the way, that the beleaguered Royals rotation has a 2.89 ERA.

It also means that the 26-year-old the Royals selected 18th overall in the 2018 draft had fresh reinforcement of what made him seem to find himself last year: how having command enables him to attack and unleash knee-buckling movement with his sinker (50 pitches Sunday) and slider (42) and judicious use of his changeup (three).

“That was something I was doing last year that helped me through a lot of games,” he said.

The trick, of course, is sustaining that.

When I asked manager Matt Quatraro if that’s “just” a mind game at some point, he smiled and said, “I try to catch myself any time I say, well, it’s ‘just.’ It’s never that easy, right? He’s going out there to compete with the best players in the world every time he takes the ball.”

It was a great point, in fact. Because countless variables, from mechanics to state of mind to opponents and then some, go into each of these performances.

But Singer has a strong say in the equation. And it seems telling that he’s reacted well to tough times.

Singer, you might recall, began last season in the bullpen and was sent down to Class AAA Omaha. Upon his return, armed with a changeup he used 16 times that night, he went seven shutout innings in a 2-1 win over the White Sox that then-manager Mike Matheny aptly suggested “could be one of those days that just changes his career.”

That was in large part because Singer, as coaches like to say, didn’t get bitter but got better.

“Sometimes people get mad when they get sent down to Triple-A,” Sal Perez said that night. “Some people take advantage of that: ‘Let me work on something. Let me get better, and I know I can be in (the) big leagues for a long time …’

“And look what happened tonight.”

That night and what went into that evident turning point came to mind on Sunday when Quatraro responded to how Singer had been handling his struggles.

“I think the only thing I’d seen was more determination,” he said. “Definitely not the negative side of that. He’s tried to press on and figure it out and drill down further and tried to come out with a better plan on the other side.”

That sense of his resolve also helps explain why Quatraro wanted to send Singer back out after a rain delay — albeit a mere 16-minute one — to pitch to the heart of the Colorado order in the sixth.

It was important, he said, for Singer to have that chance.

“To build on,” he said. “I think that’s who we think he is. That’s who he is going to be for us when things turn. He’s going to be a guy who goes six or seven innings for us consistently.”

He added, “I think that’s what he’s going to get to.”

And Singer getting to that would be a key cog to their future that depends most on the lifeline of pitching — a future that is being shaped here and now no matter how hard it is to see most of the time.