Sparkman recalled, potentially for long-term

Righty tossed 7 shutout innings in last Wednesday's win vs. Rays

May 7th, 2019

HOUSTON -- Five days ago, had pitched the kind of smart, efficient, dominant game that showed the Royals all sorts of things about what they believe he can be in the Majors.

“This stuff ain’t rocket science,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s good stuff and execution. That’s what he did in the game last time. Hopefully, that’s what he’s going to continue to do.”

In that game, on May 1, the 26-year-old right-hander pitched seven shutout innings against the first-place Rays and got his first career win in the Royals' 8-2 victory. Sparkman's fastball touched 96 mph, and his curveball was excellent. He mixed in a changeup or two, then was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha the next day.

“He’s got really, really good stuff,” Yost said. “But you have to attack with it. That’s the same with everybody -- all of our young guys.”

Sparkman was recalled from Omaha on Monday, and right-hander Ben Lively was optioned back there. Sparkman will pitch in relief, and as Yost said, “Yeah, he’s back. Depends on him how long he’s going to stay here.”

That Sparkman's return to the Royals came at Minute Maid Park had extra special meaning. He grew up a couple of hours from Houston in the tiny Texas town of Ganado.

Growing up, Sparkman played football, but while attending a D-backs tryout camp in The Woodlands, Texas, a Houston suburb, he met a scout named Rusty Pendergrass.

At the time, Sparkman’s fastball was topping out at around 85 mph, so he wasn’t Draft material. He wasn’t even Division I baseball material. Pendergrass had a suggestion.

“Call Wharton (Junior College) and tell ‘em you’re going to school there,” Pendergrass said.

So, Sparkman did.

“I called and said, 'Hey, this scout told me to say I was going to school there,’” Sparkman said. “The coach was like, 'I’ll see you Monday.’”

That’s where Sparkman's career transformed. For the first time, he focused on baseball, and his velocity soared. As the 2013 Draft approached, Sparkman went to a series of tryout camps, one of them in Kansas City, when his mother drove him there.

The Royals took him in the 20th round of that Draft, and he began an odyssey that included two games for the Blue Jays in 2017 after he was made available in the Rule 5 Draft.

When he was returned to the Royals, he continued to progress. He made 15 appearances in 2018, and has had three relief appearances and one start in '19.

“It’s very mental, a different game up here,” he said. “You make mistakes, guys will punish you. I felt really confident about the things I could do in Triple-A. Mentally, I’d come up here and I was still confident in myself, but I was tense, trying to do things I couldn’t do. I was just out of my rhythm.”

Yost said that Sparkman is dealing with the thing almost every young pitcher faces -- that is, trusting that the stuff that got him to the big leagues is good enough to keep him here.

“These are young guys learning their craft,” Yost said. “Our guys continue to work at it and stay focused on it. It’s not something you’re going to learn in a year or two. It takes a long time to be able to get consistent in your mechanics.”

Dozier to return Tuesday

 will be back at third base Tuesday against the Astros, Yost said. Dozier hasn’t played there since April 20 because of back pain.

Dozier’s return means that Kelvin Gutierrez, who played third in Dozier’s absence, will get at-bats at first and designated hitter.