When he stepped into the box for the first time at McCormick Field on Sunday afternoon, Bubba Starling had never recorded four hits in a game in his professional career.
Actually, the way his sophomore year has gone, the first-rounder wasn't even able to say he had a three-hit outing in 2013. Then everything clicked.
The Royals' top prospect snapped out of an 0-for-15 slump by going a perfect 5-for-5 with a double and an RBI in the Class A Lexington Legends' 8-7 loss to the Asheville Tourists.
"We didn't get the win, but it was a solid day," Starling said. "When guys are getting hits, it's fun. We got 16 or 18 hits and that's great, especially for the [No.] 2, 3, 4 hitters.
"This year I've not had more than two hits in a game, but I'm starting to put good swings on the ball. I hope to carry this into the All-Star break and hopefully have a good second half."
Batting third and playing center field, the 20-year-old singled to center field in the first inning and laced an RBI single to left in the third. He then doubled to left with one out in the fifth, singled to left in the seventh and was hit by the first pitch he saw from Brook Hart in the ninth. In the 11th, Starling pulled another base hit to left.
"[Raul] Mondesi got on and scored on a wild throw from center field. [Humberto] Arteaga got a hit and went to third on the error and I was just looking for a pitch to drive to the outfield," Starling said of his RBI hit.
The outing raised his average to .213, the highest it has been since May 21. Starling has been held hitless in 27 of 60 contests this year, and he has been limited to one hit in 23 others. In the other nine, he picked up a couple of hits.
Selected by the Royals fifth overall in the 2011 Draft, MLB.com's No. 24 prospect went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts and an error in his South Atlantic League debut April 5. Since then, his average has not been above .221.
"My average has not been the best, but that's what the second half is for," said Starling, who also stole his eighth base of the year in the third. "Part of me thinks I've been late and that I've not been getting my foot down. Early in the season, I was too late and I was trying to do too much. I just tried to slow things down.
"I was not seeing the ball well. I just need to be consistent at the plate and get my pitch and put a good swing on it. I have to stay back on the ball. When I'm late, I try to hurry up and that's when I'm early."
With the exception of his average, which is 62 points lower than a year ago in Burlington, the rest of his numbers have held firm. He has seven homers, eight doubles and 28 RBIs in 59 South Atlantic League games. He finished 2012 with 10 long balls, eight doubles, 33 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 53 Rookie-level Appalachian League outings.
"Starting out slow is frustrating, but I can't get down on myself," he said. "There are certain areas to work on, but I'm looking forward to the break to let my body recover."
On Sunday, Mondesi was 4-for-6 with two RBIs and a pair of runs scored and right fielder Fred Ford was 3-for-5 with two runs scored.
Asheville right-hander Andrew Brown (3-0) yielded one hit in a scoreless 11th inning to earn the victory.