Moore's roster work bearing fruit for Royals
Royals general manager Dayton Moore is a detail-oriented guy.
Oh, Moore can see the big picture. That's why in the aftermath of Kansas City advancing to the postseason for the first time in 29 years, he moved quickly to sign Kendrys Morales to replace free-agent designated hitter Billy Butler last offseason.
Moore also knows that the little things can make a big difference for a team that came within one victory of a World Series championship last October.
Check out the Royals' opening game of a three-game series in Houston on Monday night.
Joe Blanton was the scheduled starting pitcher. Joe Blanton? Yeah, Joe Blanton. Remember him?
Blanton was a first-round Draft choice of the A's in 2002. He started and won Game 4 for the Phillies in the 2008 World Series. Blanton retired from baseball in April 2014 after struggling through a '13 season with the Angels in which he was 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. He then made two starts with the A's Triple-A affiliate to open 2014 before calling it quits.
Well, now, Blanton is making his third start for Kansas City, having moved from the bullpen into the rotation on June 17 to fill in for injured right-hander Yordano Ventura. He won his first two starts, against Milwaukee and at Seattle, and is 2-0 with a 1.73 ERA in nine appearances since being called up from Triple-A Omaha in mid-May.
Blanton has helped bolster the pitching staff for the Royals, who went into Monday night with the best record in the American League at 44-28.
In addition to Blanton, Kansas City has gotten a lift from Chris Young, Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales -- all of whom were, like Blanton, under-the-radar offseason additions. And don't overlook Kris Medlen, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is expected to be added to the roster after the All-Star break, providing another fresh arm for the second-half push.
"We try to be real aggressive in scouting," said Moore. "Both [Mike] Arbuckle and [Jim] Fregosi had a history with Blanton and Madson in Philadelphia. They knew they were mentally very tough and wanted a chance to prove themselves. It is good scouting, plain and simple."
It is a gamble, but Moore knew the Royals needed protection -- particularly in a rotation where Ventura, 24, worked 183 innings last year, the most he has thrown in seven pro seasons, and Danny Duffy, 26, "has never been a high-innings pitcher," said Moore. Duffy's 149 1/3 innings last season was the heaviest workload he has had in his seven professional seasons.
Both Ventura and Duffy have been on the disabled list this year, and so has starting pitcher Jason Vargas, which means the $6.375 million combined big league salaries for the five under-the-radar arms already have paid dividends.
"It's hard to hit on these guys," said Moore, "but when your scouts make a recommendation, you listen to them and give [the player] an opportunity."
Kansas City is 4-for-4, with Medlen a potential fifth hit in their bargain shopping for pitchers.
Young spent the 2013 season recovering from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome. The 36-year-old then went 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA for the Mariners in earning the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award in '14 before finding himself in search of work in the final days of February, shortly after which he signed a $675,000 deal with the Royals.
After opening the season in the bullpen, Young moved into the rotation in mid-May, and after six strong innings in a 3-2 victory at Oakland on Saturday, he is 7-3 with a 2.71 ERA in 16 appearances (10 starts).
Madson has become a fourth cog in Kansas City's late-inning bullpen brigade, with manager Ned Yost putting him in the mix with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Madson, who made 272 appearances for the Phillies from 2008-11, was sidelined the past three seasons -- which included recovering from 2012 Tommy John surgery -- and is 1-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 30 appearances for the Royals.
Morales, who bounced between the rotation and bullpen for eight seasons with the Red Sox and Rockies, has fit into a left-handed power role in Kansas City's bullpen. He is 3-0 with a 2.97 ERA in 31 appearances, well below his career 4.60 ERA.
Then there is Medlen, who is currently on a 30-day rehab assignment.
"He is a two-time Tommy John guy, but we trust our medical team and we know his character and work ethic are strong," said Moore, who before he came to the Royals was the farm director for the Braves, Medlan's original team.
It's a gamble. The Royals, however, like the odds.
And given the success they have enjoyed, nobody is going to argue with them.