MESA, Ariz. -- If John Bale needed to make a case for his inclusion into the Royals starting rotation, he might well have done so with his performance on Tuesday.
For his first five innings, Bale deftly controlled the game's tempo. He held the Cubs to one run on two hits.
"I felt like I was cruising along there," he said.
So efficient and effective was the 33-year-old Bale that manager Trey Hillman sent him back to the mound for the bottom of the sixth.
But Bale soon found himself in trouble. He allowed the first two Cubs batters he faced to reach base on singles -- one of them of the scratch variety. Danger now confronted Bale in the form of Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee.
Bale fanned Soriano and got Lee to ground hard to third in what should have been a double play. The double play wasn't turned, though. Bale ended up having to face Aramis Ramirez, another batter who spelled danger.
"We should've gotten out of the inning," Hillman said. "We should've turned the double play."
Three pitches later, Bale tried to get Ramirez to chase another slow curve. The pitch's location wasn't where Bale had wanted it to be. It was too high in the strike zone, and it caught too much of the plate.
He found himself looking at a baseball sailing over the right-field fence.
"This is just a funny game," Bale said. "It comes down to one pitch."
One walk later and his day was done. Yet what Bale left behind was a body of work that looked rock solid. This was another performance that has kept him in the thick of landing a spot in Hillman's rotation.
"He definitely helped himself," said Hillman, whose ballclub lost, 6-5. "But we've gotta evaluate everybody. You got four more guys for two slots."
But it's hard to argue that Bale hasn't looked worthy of one of those two slots. He came into camp prepared to compete, and he's competed. Everybody here has said as much.
Even he thinks he's pitched well -- well enough to get Hillman's nod. He's hopeful he will; he's also unsure he will.
"Naturally, I'll be a little disappointed," Bale said. "I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't. ... But, you know, you can't stay mad too long if it doesn't happen."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.