Sparkman eager for action in Cactus opener

February 22nd, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right-hander will get the nod for the Royals in their Cactus League opener on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. CT against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.

And even Sparkman admits there’s a little something special about being chosen to start the spring opener.

“It’s definitely exciting to get that first opportunity out of the gate to face hitters,” Sparkman said.

Is Sparkman expecting butterflies?

“A little bit,” he said, smiling. “First one of the spring, so you’ll definitely be a little excited. You just have to stay calm and go at them.”

Sparkman, 26, was selected by the Royals in the 2013 MLB Draft and then he was taken by the Blue Jays in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft before being returned to the Royals in June 2017.

Sparkman, who had Tommy John surgery in 2015, showed flashes for the Royals in '18. Overall, he had a 4.46 ERA, but in his last four outings of the season, he posted a 2.08 ERA.

“He’s somebody on our radar,” manager Ned Yost said.

But it will be an uphill battle for Sparkman to crack the 25-man roster. The Royals have a crowded field trying to grab seven or eight bullpen spots.

Sparkman is expected to throw about 35-40 pitches on Saturday. He will be followed by Ben Lively, Tim Hill, Jake Newberry and Jake Kalish.

New pitch for Tim Hill

Royals left-hander Tim Hill added a changeup to his repertoire this offseason to go with his two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball and slider. The changeup could be especially helpful against right-handers, who had a .774 OPS against Hill in 2018.

“It’s coming along,” Hill said. “Getting there.”

How did Hill learn to throw his changeup?

“Just trial and error using different grips,” he said.