Royals' revamped bullpen depth will be put to test early

February 28th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. – The Royals spent the winter revamping their bullpen and ensuring there’s depth to cover a full season, and with a month until Opening Day, it seems like they’ll be dipping into those reinforcements already.

Carlos Hernández hasn’t been able to overcome the nagging shoulder soreness that he entered camp with, and he’ll be shut down for a period of time after receiving a cortisone injection scheduled for Wednesday.

There’s no timeline for Hernández’s return, but given that this will delay him even more, his status for Opening Day is questionable.

“We’re hopeful it’s a short term shutdown,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “You get the injection, which will be tomorrow, and then there’s a rest period to let it do its job. He tried to throw through it, but it didn’t feel comfortable at this time pushing forward.”

Hernández, 26, was delayed at the start of camp, but the soreness was categorized as minor. The Royals were hopeful he could still get six or seven Cactus League appearances before Opening Day, but Hernández threw a low-intensity bullpen on Saturday and still felt soreness in the days after, leading to the pause.

When he’s healthy, Hernández should be a big piece of the Royals’ bullpen. He’s a high-powered arm with strikeout stuff and a high ceiling, although he struggled at the end of 2023 and finished with a 5.27 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 70 innings.

The Royals signed Will Smith and Chris Stratton and traded for Nick Anderson and John Schreiber to deepen the back end of their ‘pen, in hopes of taking the pressure off Hernández and James McArthur. But if Hernández is delayed to begin the year, it opens another spot in the bullpen for competition.

There are three spots now for the Royals to fill. One could be a starter who doesn’t win a rotation spot and can be counted on for length, like Daniel Lynch IV, Alec Marsh, Angel Zerpa, Anthony Veneziano or Jonathan Bowlan.

Other relievers on the 40-man roster competing for a spot include lefties Jake Brentz and Josh Taylor and righties Steven Cruz, Will Klein, John McMillon and Matt Sauer, who was the Royals’ Rule 5 Draft pick over the winter and must be on the 26-man roster if the Royals don’t want to put him through waivers or send him back to the Yankees.

Non-roster invites in the competition include right-handers Dan Altavilla, Luis Cessa and Tyler Duffey and lefties Sam Long and Walter Pennington.

“That was one of our main goals this winter was to add depth to the pitching staff,” Quatraro said. “So we’re really comfortable with a lot of the guys that are not only internal options but some of the guys we signed as either Minor League or Major League free agents. As we’ve talked about a lot, we’re going to need everybody and then some. It’s very unusual for guys to stay on the active roster the whole year. Whether that’s the beginning of the year that you have to cover somebody or later, you still have to do it. Hopefully we’re covered a little bit better.”

Schreiber debuts

Speaking of the bullpen, Schreiber made his Royals debut on Tuesday with a scoreless inning in Kansas City’s 6-3 loss to the Padres at Peoria Sports Complex. He allowed two soft singles up the middle, but then got a double play before left fielder Devin Mann made a phenomenal diving catch to strand the runner on third and end the inning.

Schreiber, acquired earlier this spring from the Red Sox for prospect David Sandlin, flashed his full mix with the eight pitches he threw, including the new cutter he worked on over the offseason and his two-seamer, which features more sink than it did last year.

“I was excited about that,” Schreiber said. “I think maybe it didn’t have as much depth as years prior. Tinkering around with it in Spring Training and figuring out what was wrong with it, I think I figured out … how to get more sink on there more consistently.”

Over in Surprise

• The Royals got the bats going in the other half of their split-squad day on Tuesday, with homers from Nate Eaton and CJ Alexander propelling Kansas City to a 4-3 win over the Rockies at Surprise Stadium. Vinnie Pasquantino also went 1-for-2 with a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the fifth inning.

• Lynch allowed one run on one hit in two innings during his start, with a walk and two strikeouts. Brentz walked two in the fourth inning but didn’t allow a run.