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In Junis, some see flashes of an all-time great

Right-hander making his mark this season in Royals' rotation
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

BALTIMORE -- As right-hander Jakob Junis was progressing through the Royals' farm system, legendary scout Art Stewart was asked if Junis reminded him of any other pitcher.

Stewart didn't hesitate.

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BALTIMORE -- As right-hander Jakob Junis was progressing through the Royals' farm system, legendary scout Art Stewart was asked if Junis reminded him of any other pitcher.

Stewart didn't hesitate.

View Full Game Coverage

"When he's on," Stewart said, "Jake can look like Greg Maddux."

As Junis now has become one of the better success stories in the American League -- 4-2 with a 3.18 ERA -- Stewart doubled down on the Maddux comparison.

"But I'll add one thing," Stewart said by phone. "Jakob's fastball is a little better, has more late life than Maddux's did."

Of course, such comparisons are mostly just conversation right now. Junis hasn't even pitched a full season in the big leagues.

"Yes, I'm careful about comparing anyone to someone like Maddux, who had that kind of command and movement," Royals pitching coach Cal Eldred said. "Certainly there are some similarities, like the pace they keep. And they're strike throwers.

"Like Maddux, Jakob is not really trying to go for strikeouts. But when he needs to, he has the weapons to do so."

Maddux's quick tempo certainly has become a trait of Junis. The Royals' two quickest games this season -- one at 2 hours, 16 minutes and another at 2 hours, 17 minutes, were both Junis starts in which he pitched deep.

That pace has endeared Junis to his teammates.

"Any time you have someone work that quickly," third baseman Mike Moustakas said, "it's fun to play behind. You stay ready. We love it."

Junis also has become known as a strike thrower. His walk rate this season of 1.8 is exactly the same as Maddux's career walk rate.

And while Junis said he prefers pitching to contact, he can get strikeouts with his wipeout slider.

"His stuff is not eye popping," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "But it is really good. He's got a swing-and-miss slider. Good hitters swing and miss at it.

"He hasn't been here that long, but now when you put his name in the lineup, you feel pretty good about your chances. It happened pretty quickly."

Like Stewart, Yost isn't shy about making the Maddux comparisons. Yost knew Maddux well from his days on the Braves' coaching staff in the 1990s.

While Maddux relied on his two-seam fastball and circle change with an occasional cutter or curveball, Junis uses four pitches regularly -- his two-seam and four-seam fastball, a changeup, and the slider.

When Junis has command of all four pitches, he can be dominant.

"It's all about command," Yost said. "Maddux wouldn't knock your eyes out with his stuff, either. But he would just tie you up. And Maddux had that same stoic confidence that Jake does."

Junis seemed almost embarrassed to hear of any comparisons to a Hall of Famer like Maddux.

"I don't know about all that," Junis said. "I'm just trying to pitch."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Jakob Junis