Junis brings new cutter into duel with Bieber

April 6th, 2021

The Royals will start right-hander for Wednesday’s series finale against Cleveland, the club announced during Tuesday’s off-day.

It will be a scheduled bullpen day, with Junis likely only throwing a few innings before handing it off to the rest of the bullpen. The Royals would like Junis to be available at the end of the White Sox series this weekend, so they won’t push him too hard.

“It’s something that we’ll feel out,” Junis said Tuesday. “More than likely it’ll be a couple of innings. … They told me they want me to start the game and have that same mentality that I have out of the bullpen -- not worried about going deep, just worry about coming out and being nasty for a couple innings.”

Junis threw two combined scoreless innings in relief Saturday and Sunday with three strikeouts. The Royals put Junis in the ‘pen to start the season but gave him a swingman role because he’s built up to go multiple innings. Junis warms up quickly, which helps him in the bullpen -- he only has to throw seven pitches before being ready to head to the mound -- and he’s embracing the reliever mentality of throwing his best stuff for shorter outings.

“As a starter, you’re responsible to go five, six innings, take that load off the bullpen, and that’s a big responsibility to carry a game that long and still put up good numbers and keep your team in the game,” Junis said. “Out of the bullpen, it’s more, ‘I got one inning here to get three outs,' and do whatever you can to throw up a zero and pass the ball to the next guy. That’s been a lot of fun so far. I think we have a lot of good pieces down in the bullpen and all have confidence in each other to do that and keep the line moving.”

Junis had pitched in consecutive days over the weekend for the first time in his career and said he felt fine -- even better the second day.

“It’s been fantastic,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I’ve been really impressed. I was happy we were able to use him back to back, and very happy to [hear him say] yesterday that he felt better than he did the day before. So all those things are pointing in a really good direction. He seems to be embracing this role. And he’s looked very good.”

Throughout Spring Training, Junis’ focus was on his developing cutter, and he’s been able to lean on the pitch heavily in his two short outings. It’s his second-most-used pitch behind his four-seamer, and he got two strikeouts on it along with a base hit. The added pitch, along with Junis' signature slider, will help him keep hitters off balance, especially as he’s stretched out.

“The shape of it is different compared to how it was in Arizona for the last few outings, just adjusting to the extra adrenaline that comes with being in a real game with fans and stuff," Junis said. “Trying to lock that true cutter shape -- it’s coming with time. It hasn’t been what I wanted the first couple outings, but it’s been good enough. Gotten the job done, stayed off of barrels. I know it could be better, so that’s been promising as well.”

Junis and the Royals' bullpen will face Cleveland ace Shane Bieber on Wednesday. Right-hander Brad Keller will start Thursday’s game in Chicago, giving him a full week in between starts after he allowed six runs in 1 1/3 innings on Opening Day against the Rangers.

The Royals also announced Tuesday that reliever Scott Blewett and catcher Meibrys Viloria cleared waivers after being designated for assignment last week. Blewett will be at the alternate training site and Viloria was sent to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.