NEW YORK – Homer Bailey has something to smile about if he goes hunting with Cal Eldred during the offseason. Bailey overcame injuries and struggles to win consecutive starts for the first time since July 2017.
"I can be the first person to say wins are precious. Sometimes they can be few and far between, so you enjoy them when they come," Bailey said after holding the New York Yankees to three hits over six innings in the Kansas City Royals' 6-1 victory Thursday night.
Eldred, the Royals' pitching coach, had called Bailey in January, after the right-hander was released. Eldred did some research, knowing they had a common interest.
"We both like to deer hunt," Eldred said. "My recruiting pitch was, you know what, Homer, you've got good stuff, and I've seen you for a long time, and I think that we can work together. We've got good people over here. We've got a young team that he could be a good example to."
Bailey was intrigued by Eldred's pitch.
"Felt like he would be a really good fit," the pitcher said.
Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn backed Bailey (2-1) with solo home runs off Domingo Germán (3-1), and the Royals won their second straight after starting the season 5-12, including 0-5 on the road.
Bailey, who turns 33 on May 3, has been among baseball's biggest busts since signing a $105 million, six-year contract with Cincinnati before the 2014 season, not able to overcome injuries that have prevented him from pitching a full season since 2013. He went 18-32 for the Reds after the big deal, missing more than 14 months following Tommy John surgery in May 2015 and then needing another operation in February 2017 to remove bone spurs from his right elbow.
He was 1-14 last season, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in December and released with $28 million still due. He signed a minor league contract with the Royals on Feb. 9, made the team and after opening with a no decision against Minnesota and a loss to Seattle, allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings to beat Cleveland last Saturday for his first win since May 12.
He gave up a tying run to the Yankees on Gleyber Torres' first-inning sacrifice fly following singles by Aaron Judge and Luke Voit, then gave up just one more hit. Bailey, who struck out six and walked one, had not won back-to-back starts since July 4, 2017, at Colorado and five days later at Arizona.
"It is a key that he builds his confidence, but the guy that's doing that is Homer," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Really from the first day that we had him in spring training and all of his games – tonight is about what you've seen. He's throwing the ball really, really well."
Bailey is using his splitter about a quarter of the time, up from 15 percent last season. Asked whether it was difficult to maintain belief after his surgery, he quickly corrected – "plural," grinned and said "sorry."
"You just find a way to grind through and believe in what you do," he said.
Richard Lovelady got five outs, and former Yankee Ian Kennedy finished. New York was limited to four singles, including a pair by Clint Frazier that raised his average to .347.
Bailey has a 4.30 ERA, a figure inflated when gave up seven runs to the Mariners.
"His split was a problem for us," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "We just were having a hard time laying off that pitch."
Germán gave up three runs and six hits in six innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. He gave up consecutive doubles in the first to Adalberto Mondesi – who had been 0 for 20 on the road this year – and Alex Gordon, then fell behind 3-1 on leadoff homers by Soler in the second and O'Hearn in the fourth.
Whit Merrifield hit an RBI double in the seventh off Jonathan Holder, and Mondesi added sacrifice flies against Zack Britton and Joseph Harvey.
In the happy clubhouse, Eldred admitted he and Bailey do have one significant disagreement.
"He believes Texas has the best white-tails," Eldred said, "and I believe Iowa does."
Playing on the 96th anniversary of the opening of the original Yankee Stadium across the street, New York stumbled after its two-game sweep of Boston and dropped back to 8-10.
Built Ford tough
Mike Ford made his major league debut for the Yankees after 561 games over seven minor league seasons and went 0 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts as parents Barb and Bob watched from the stands. The 26-year-old from New Jersey is the seventh Princeton product to reach the big leagues after playing for Tigers coach Scott Bradley, a former catcher for the Yankees and Seattle.
Ford saw 24 pitches and took a called third strike that ended the game. He flied out in his first at-bat.
"It was just awesome," he said. "I actually wasn't very nervous, just kind of ready for the moment and just tried to put a good swing on the ball."
Yankees: 3B Miguel Andújar (labrum tear in right shoulder) took batting and fielding practice and is increasing the intensity of his workouts. Boone said it was too early to consider whether Andújar could return in a DH role if his arm is limited. ... SS Troy Tulowitzki (left calf strain) took batting practice and ran on the field. He plans to travel with the Yankees on their trip that starts Monday night at the Los Angeles Angels.
LHP CC Sabathia (0-0) makes his second start for the Yankees on Friday after pitching five scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the Chicago White Sox. Sabathia needs 11 strikeouts to reach 3,000. RHP Jakob Junis (1-1), who starts for the Royals, is 0-2 at Yankee Stadium.