The Royals twice coughed up a two-run lead and lost 5-4 to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night at Surprise Stadium.
Nathan Karns reached into his stall in the Royals clubhouse after his start Tuesday and pulled out an item wrapped in adhesive gauze. He unspooled the packaging and revealed part of a rib that at this time last year had been near his right shoulder. In July, Karns had the piece surgically removed to address thoracic outlet syndrome, a neurogenic condition caused by the compression of nerves near the neck and shoulder.
Until toeing the rubber Tuesday, Karns had not pitched in a game since late last spring, and he is keeping the rib as a memento of the long layoff.
"That's what a human rib looks like," he said as the rib laid in his hand. "I'm trying to get it dipped in something, just kind of have it like coated in something and put it on a necklace.
"Just take it out there, so at least I'm always 100 percent on the mound, instead of 99," Karns joked. "It's all good. I'm really happy with where we're at, and it's just a reminder of where I was 10 months ago."
Karns admittedly had jitters about getting back on the mound for the first time since facing the Twins on May 19, but he struck out three straight Padres at one point and his fastball was working at 93 to 95 mph. He threw 49 pitches, including 27 strikes. Karns seemed to tire a bit at the end as he walked the last two batters he faced.
There was a moment in the second inning when Karns threw a curveball and then mimicked the delivery before getting the ball back.
"I don't know really know where I was velo-wise, but I was able to do some things like work in my two-seam and my cutter a little bit," Karns said, "but as far as my curveballs, there were some things that need to be worked on, but first-time outing, I shouldn't be too dialed in at that point."
Cheslor Cuthbert hit a solo homer off former Royal Chris Young in the third inning, and the Royals pushed the lead to 2-0 on Jorge Bonifacio's RBI double an inning later.
After the Padres tied the game with two runs off Royals reliever Andrew Machado in the top of the fifth, the Royals regained the lead in the bottom half. Donnie Dewees singled, stole second, took third on a flyout and scored on a single by Tyler Collins.
In the sixth inning, Ramon Torres' double brought home Hunter Dozier to make it 4-2.
Heath Fillmyer gave up two runs in the top of the eighth inning, and San Diego scored the go-ahead run on a squeeze play against Kevin McCarthy in the ninth inning.
Cuthbert's home run, which sailed over the 350-foot sign in left field, was his first of the spring. The competition at third base appears to be his to lose, and he's batting .357.
"Cuthbert’s been really playing good third base," manager Ned Yost said. "Yeah, defense has been OK. I’ve been happy with the defense."
First baseman Lucas Duda lined a sharp single to right field in his first spring plate appearance with the Royals. Duda, who signed a one-year contract with the Royals last week, struck out in his other plate appearance.
Brad Keller inherited a two-on, two-out situation in relief of Karns and struck out Allen Craig to end the second. Keller, who reached 97 mph with his fastball, struck out two more in the third inning before issuing a walk and allowing a single. He got out of it with a groundout.
Keller, who was picked in the Rule 5 draft, has not allowed a run in three spring outings covering 3 1/3 innings.
The Royals, 6-3-1, have a quick turnaround as they will face the Milwaukee Brewers at Surprise Stadium on Wednesday. First pitch is at 12:05 p.m., and Jakob Junis will start.