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Matheny's No. 5 starter? 'We may get creative'

@FlannyMLB
February 13, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- So, which pitchers in Royals camp are competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation behind Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery? Eric Skoglund? Foster Griffin? Brady Singer (No. 59 prospect, per MLB Pipeline)? Jackson Kowar? Daniel Lynch (No. 61 prospect)? “Yes. Yes.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- So, which pitchers in Royals camp are competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation behind Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery?

Eric Skoglund? Foster Griffin? Brady Singer (No. 59 prospect, per MLB Pipeline)? Jackson Kowar? Daniel Lynch (No. 61 prospect)?

“Yes. Yes. Yes,” new Royals manager Mike Matheny said with a sly grin. “There’s going to be a whole lot of yeses.”

The battle for the No. 5 spot is wide open, Matheny said on Thursday. The Royals won’t need a fifth starter until at least April 8, and maybe even later than that depending on any weather postponements.

But a decision eventually will have to be made, and Matheny said he has plenty of options.

“Part of the question is using a potential opener,” Matheny said. “Who can be behind that fifth guy to get some innings? There’s a whole lot of openings here. We may have to get creative with that spot. We won’t need him until [early April]. But you have to have guys stretched out, so we’re aware of that.”

The Royals haven’t ruled out using a newcomer for that fifth spot, making this an important camp for prospects like Singer, Kowar or Lynch. But Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore, while not putting limitations on his up-and-coming pitchers, said he expects most to be ticketed for the Minor Leagues.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘Are they ready?’” Matheny said. “It’s not totally [the coaching staff’s] call. We know these pitchers can help us at some point. So you ask: How can we speed up that process? But we have to be smart. You get them in here and see what you see.”

The Royals, who aren’t likely to sign a veteran free agent to compete for that fifth spot, seem committed to moving right-handers Jorge López and Glenn Sparkman, who had 41 starts between them last season, to the bullpen.

“I want those guys focused on making really good pitches with a sense of urgency to come right in and get guys out,” Matheny said. “I think sometimes [Sparkman] last year held back at times knowing he might face guys three times through the order. I want him thinking that he needs to come in right away and get guys out. Have that mentality.

“We haven’t had that conversation with Jorge yet, or we haven’t been as blunt about it as we have with Sparky. We haven’t completely ruled [starting] out with Jorge. But whatever role he will be in will be long. We need length.

“I remember watching Jorge close that game at Cleveland last year [Aug. 25, for his first career save] and his stuff was just filthy. I haven’t seen his stuff waver as much as Sparky’s.”

Matheny on three-batter minimum

Matheny isn’t overly worried about the new rule that will require relief pitchers to face at least three batters.

But the rule obviously has been a hot topic among Matheny and his coaching staff.

“It definitely changes strategy,” Matheny said. “You have to get the opposite side of the plate out. The rule [comes into play] more so for lefties. Strategically, it changes the way you think.

“In the perfect world, a guy’s stuff is so nasty you don’t have to worry about it.”

But Matheny made it clear he won’t let the rule potentially lead to injuries, meaning he won’t be afraid to remove a pitcher before he faces the three-batter minimum if his pitch count rises.

“My fear is that you have a guy who is on a short leash [on his] pitch count,” Matheny said, “and you have a couple of 10-pitch at-bats. I don’t want to hurt anyone.

“I’ll do anything to protect our players’ health. If I’m the one getting punished, that’s fine. There’s a whole lot of things that can eventually go wrong with this rule. That’s the only one I see is a problem potentially -- a guy comes in to get three hitters but his pitch count goes way up.

“I’d take him out [and say] ‘He’s hurt.’”

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