SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With Opening Day fast approaching on Thursday, the Royals finalized the rotation that will greet the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium this weekend.
Following Zack Greinke’s Opening Day start and the off day on Friday, the Royals will start right-hander Brad Keller on Saturday, lefty Kris Bubic on Sunday and righty Carlos Hernández on Monday.
Manager Mike Matheny said Sunday that he prefers to have a five-man rotation, so that leaves the fifth rotation spot still an open roster battle.
One of the candidates to win the spot is Daniel Lynch, who made his final spring start Sunday in the Royals’ 10-8 loss to the Mariners at Surprise Stadium, allowing three runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. A few mistakes cost him -- No. 3-ranked prospect Julio Rodríguez hammered a pitch down the middle for a home run in the fifth inning -- but Lynch generally commanded the ball well and felt he ended his spring on a good note.
The role that he’s in the next time he pitches isn’t up to him.
“I try not to worry about that,” Lynch said. “I feel like I’ve done everything I could. I came in really prepared, I did everything I needed to do, and the rest is just not up to me.”
The other main candidate for the fifth starter role is Brady Singer, the former first-round MLB Draft pick who has spent the past two seasons in the rotation. He is slated to start Tuesday’s Cactus League finale against the Brewers. The Royals also have Jackson Kowar and Jonathan Heasley -- who started Friday night’s game against the Padres -- built up to start, but it appears they’ll be in the bullpen as long relievers to start the season. Kowar is listed as a probable pitcher in Monday’s game against the Reds, following Keller’s start.
“Truthfully, it’s coming down to Lynch and Singer,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “… Some of it is how guys respond out of the ‘pen, and we’ve had a chance to see Heasley out of the ‘pen. For whatever reason, his mind is built to do that. Jackson seems very comfortable with it.
“We’re trying to let this thing play out. It’s a short spring. We still feel like it’s competition. We want to play it out until the end. We do have some things that can still be ironed out. And then it’s a matter of how do we want to line up our bullpen? Who fits well in our bullpen?”
The Royals want to stockpile arms coming off a shortened spring and with rosters expanding to 28 for the first month of the season. What the pitching staff looks like in May, when only 13 pitchers will be allowed on the roster, might look different than what it looks like on Thursday.
“We’re going to reach a point where if the starters are throwing well, the long man isn’t going to be as necessary,” Picollo added. “When you’re talking about young prospects in the Major Leagues not pitching a whole lot, then we’ll have to make some choices. That won’t be until the first week of May, and so many things can happen between now and then. But it is something we have to prepare for. The way we break, we’ll have plenty of innings in the bullpen.”
Royals ready to let Mondesi play
Going into the offseason last year, the Royals were planning on creating a workload management plan for shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, hoping to keep him healthy in 2022 after he played just 35 games last season. As Opening Day nears with Mondesi slated to be the Royals’ starting shortstop, the club has backed off that plan, without a set workload schedule for the oft-injured 26-year-old.
“It’s developed more into, ‘Let’s be smart about it and aware of it,’” Picollo said. “… We’ve decided not to go, ‘He’s going to play five days, then sit.’ We’re not going to do that. We just think he’s too valuable to be [off] the field.”
Picollo likened the approach to the way the Royals handled center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s workload, when they were strategic with the schedule while getting him more off days when he needed it after he struggled to stay healthy early in his career in Kansas City.
The Royals are still taking Mondesi’s injury history into account, assuring they have viable backup shortstops in Nicky Lopez and Bobby Witt Jr., when Mondesi does get a day off this season. But the club no longer thinks load management will be effective, in part because they haven’t been able to find a definitive answer to why Mondesi hasn’t been able to stay healthy -- his injuries have been wide-ranging and unpredictable, not one chronic problem -- and, in part, because of Mondesi’s preference.
“We’d truly be guessing and trying to protect him too much,” Picollo added. “He wants to play. That’s the other thing we have to keep in mind. He doesn’t want to be managed that way. He wants to play, and he’s made that clear. So with that type of attitude, he doesn’t feel like we need to be guarded with him.”