Matheny: 'It's a great time to be a Royal'

February 18th, 2021

With every offseason move that general manager Dayton Moore and his staff made this winter, manager Mike Matheny would receive a barrage of text messages from his players with their thoughts on how the acquisition helped the roster. From the Carlos Santana signing to bringing back Greg Holland to the recent trade for Andrew Benintendi, Matheny could sense the excitement for 2021 through his phone.

On Wednesday he could feel it in person.

Royals pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Wednesday, officially kicking off the 2021 season. The club was off and running at its complex in Surprise, Ariz., on Day 1, with 22 pitchers throwing bullpens.

“I just can’t tell you the excitement -- you feel the buzz in here,” Matheny said. “It’s not just some sort of company line here. We just watched 22 bullpens a few minutes ago, and the stuff that we’re seeing on those mounds, it’s advanced, even for some of the young guys. You put that in place and in line with some of the things that we watched our guys improve to do last year.

“My favorite line right now: It’s a great time to be a Royal.”

The Royals are no longer in rebuilding mode; their goal is centered on making a bigger jump in a tough American League Central. They haven’t had a winning season since 2015, when they won the World Series, but an aggressive offseason has refurbished the lineup and added veteran experience to the roster.

Spring Training will establish what to expect from Kansas City in 2021.

Pitchers and catchers went through physicals on Wednesday morning at the team’s facility, where tents have been set up outside the clubhouse for meetings, eating, working out and almost everything typically done inside. Player arrivals are staggered, and the team is operating out of two clubhouses and two training rooms to minimize the number of people in one room. The doors are open to allow for air flow; food is portioned and packaged for grab-and-go as opposed to the buffet style typically seen in the clubhouse.

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Masks are essential when players aren’t on the field and are worn by coaches all the time.

Matheny’s goal is to limit the amount of time a group is standing around, with each meeting limited to 15 minutes. On Wednesday he gathered his coaching staff to talk through how camp will run. A timer went off to mark the 15 minutes.

“I’m right in the middle of a conversation and then we just ... we break,” he said. "We go reset, and come back. Fifteen minutes goes so fast, and it was clunky and awkward, but it was more making a point as much as anything else, that we’ll do whatever we have to do.”

Of the 43 pitchers and catchers who were supposed to report on Wednesday, only four have been delayed for reasons Matheny couldn’t disclose: right-handers Josh Staumont, Carlos Sanabria and Andres Sotillet, and lefty prospect Asa Lacy.

The rest were ready to go -- ready to roll with the momentum they had at the end of 2020 and throughout the offseason.

“Overall, I think it was something that you saw just kind of building,” Matheny said. “That to me is the vibe. Positive momentum forward. Jump on, let’s go. Then it’s, 'Let’s get better every single day.' They’re going to hear that every day. You can’t help but sense the vibe of excitement because of some of the momentum that we have.”

Duffy to wear No. 30

Pitcher Danny Duffy will don a new number in 2021: No. 30. He will wear it in honor of the late Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident in 2017. Duffy and Ventura were close friends -- they were teammates for four years, spent time together in the Minors and celebrated a World Series championship together.

Duffy will wear No. 30 with the blessing of Ventura’s mother, Marisol Hernández, as well as former and current Royals. Although the number is not officially retired, no Royal has worn No. 30 since Ventura stepped off the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 30, 2016.

Matheny open to six-man rotation

Matheny hasn’t ruled out a six-man rotation in 2021 to help ease pitchers back into their workloads for a 162-game season, but he emphasized on Wednesday that the plan is to have an aggressive-yet-careful plan for most their pitchers when it comes to workloads.

“Once we get our eyes on them, we can make those audibles at any point, but we’re going to go about this giving these guys a chance to compete,” Matheny said. “Pull back the reins when we need to pull back the reins, and there’s some we’re pulling back before they walk out of here the first day. They’re going to know that. There’s some others that we’ll just let them go, watch how they blend, and then we’re going to keep an eye on how the progression goes.”

Matheny has had discussions about a six-man rotation but mentioned that the team may not even need a fifth starter until the 10th or 11th game of the regular season because of early off-days.

Of the projected starters, only veteran lefty Mike Minor has pitched 200 innings in a big league season, doing so twice (including 208 1/3 innings in 2019). Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, both entering their second year in the Majors, didn't reach 150 innings in a single season in the Minor Leagues. Teams will be cautious, especially with young arms, about having pitchers jump from 50 to 60 innings in 2020 to 170 to 180 innings a year later.

“Especially with the conversations we’ve had about some of these young pitchers and how can we watch them without limiting them from the beginning -- are there times, or some stretches, where it makes sense, where we’re giving certain guys more rest,” Matheny said. “So I’m open, and I know that’s something Dayton and I have had conversations about. We’ll continue to figure out what’s going to be best for each individual player to protect them on the health side, but also give our team the best shot each night.”