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Junis taking nothing for granted in camp

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jakob Junis knows he doesn't have a starting job locked up. But based on his rookie performance in 2017 -- 9-3, 4.30 ERA -- he certainly has built some equity in manager Ned Yost's mind.

"He has," Yost said. "He just needs to keep doing what he's doing."

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jakob Junis knows he doesn't have a starting job locked up. But based on his rookie performance in 2017 -- 9-3, 4.30 ERA -- he certainly has built some equity in manager Ned Yost's mind.

"He has," Yost said. "He just needs to keep doing what he's doing."

Junis is taking nothing for granted. Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel are obvious locks for the rotation. Right-hander Nathan Karns, coming off surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, likely will have another spot secured.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

That leaves an open battle for the No. 5 spot among many camp contenders, including Junis, Trevor Oaks, Jesse Hahn and Wily Peralta.

Junis probably has an inside edge.

"The way I ended last season certainly gave me a lot of confidence," Junis said. "Now I've got to build on that."

Junis, 25, made his first big league start in late May and showed some flashes of his potential over the next month, then emerged as the team's best starter over the season's final two months, posting a 3.61 ERA over 10 starts.

The highlight was an Aug. 6 outing at Kauffman Stadium against the Mariners in which he went eight innings, gave up four hits and one run, walked none and struck out seven.

Video: SEA@KC: Junis tosses a gem in eight innings of work

The starts, though, sort of mesh together in Junis' memory.

"I don't really remember one that stood out," he said. "Just taking all those experiences in was a dream come true for me."

Junis does remember his June 11 start against San Diego, perhaps the first time he showed up on many observers' radar. He went seven-plus innings and gave up three runs while striking out six in an 8-3 win. It was the first time fans got a good look at his wipeout slider.

Video: KC@SD: Junis fans six in seven solid innings

"That was one of my first starts," he said. "I got a lot of run support. We put it on them pretty good.

"I know I went into the eighth inning that game and proved I could go deep and save the 'pen. [It was a] big step for me to show them I could do that."

Junis' goal this spring is to improve his curveball. He has changed his grip, going from a traditional hold to more of a spike curve, with his index finger dug into the ball.

"The slider still feels good," he said. "I can throw that any time I want. But I found out once I had my slider going last year, I kind of lost my curveball. So I changed grips, and I'm trying to get a little more bite on the curveball.

"That's the thing down here. There's always room for improvement. My command isn't the greatest. Secondary pitches could get better. Changeup could get better. You always want to get better."

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

Kansas City Royals, Jakob Junis