KANSAS CITY -- The Royals placed right-hander Jakob Junis on the injured list on Monday, simply to give him more time to amp up his pitch count for the regular season.
Junis, 27, had been expected to be the No. 3 starter in the rotation. But he was not among the original group of players who reported for Summer Camp because he had tested positive for COVID-19 then. He was given clearance to return to baseball activities a little over a week ago, the club said.
Junis has been seen throwing on the side regularly in the past week during workouts at Kauffman Stadium that were open to the media.
Left-hander Mike Montgomery started Monday night’s exhibition game against Houston but manager Mike Matheny said to not assume Montgomery would also start Saturday in Cleveland, though he would be lined up to do so after four days of rest.
Right-hander Brad Keller, last year’s Opening Day starter, is still building up his pitch count after being cleared and activated from the injured list on Friday. It is unclear when Keller can become part of the rotation.
Matheny has talked all camp about the need to get creative, and perhaps bold, with how the Royals approach their rotation, which got thinner after the Junis news.
“No doubt,” Matheny said. “It’s going to be exactly how we talked. How can we use whatever you have to get outs?
“It comes down to thinking outside the box, and then whatever is further outside the box than that.”
“I think it’s going to open the door for a lot of guys and not just guys who are labeled as starters,” Matheny said.
“There will be opportunities to come in and pitch with extended roles. We’re going to need multiple guys to get stretched out.”
Matheny said he wasn’t sure when Junis would be available to return to the rotation.
“It’s not so much about pitch count,” Matheny said, “it’s about how he can use his pitches. He had a long bullpen [Sunday] but he just has to make sure he can utilize his pitches, like his slider -- that’s such a big pitch for him.
“He’s been behind in terms of getting built up. And it’s tough to catch up right now.”
Junis acknowledged that he does need some additional time to prepare for the season.
“It’s unfortunate, but I need to take a step back and get caught up before I’ll be able to contribute the way I feel I’m capable to help this team,” Junis said in a statement. “My start in camp after the quarantine period was delayed due to a positive COVID-19 test, and while I’ve been cleared, I am not built up to be where I need to be to start the season.
After talking to Mike [Matheny] and [pitching coach] Cal [Eldred], it became clear that the best course of action would be for me to [go] to the IL and continue to throw and prepare to contribute when I’m ready.”