Sweeney, Royals plot Opening Day pitch plan

Starting rotation, Bubic's role, bullpen alignment among club's spring decisions

March 22nd, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Royals pitching coach Brian Sweeney has been one of the busiest people in camp, plotting out pitching schedules and roles while getting to know his new pitching staff in his first year with Kansas City. Not only is he focused on the Major League side, but he’s made sure to check in on Minor League pitchers and help put individual plans together moving into the season.

Now, he and the Royals will make decisions after all they’ve seen and learned this spring.

“You can’t base everything on just what’s happened in Spring Training,” Sweeney said. “It’ll trick you. So their total body of work, where are they at? And how do we continue to communicate to help put them in the best spot?”

Sweeney addressed an array of pitching topics on Wednesday as the Royals look ahead to Opening Day. Here are some of the highlights:

The rotation

The skinny: The Royals haven’t announced their Opening Day starter nor who will follow in the rotation. The way the schedule has been planned, would be on his turn for March 30 against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium. and appear to be rotation locks. The final two spots are undecided, and candidates include , and .

Sweeney: “We’re working on it. It’s a work in progress. I’m sure we’ll find out soon. … We want to do what’s best for this team and what’s best for the guys.”

Singer’s buildup

The skinny: Singer returned to camp on Wednesday after Team USA lost to 3-2 against Japan in the World Baseball Classic final on Tuesday night. He only pitched two innings in the tournament, so the right-hander is behind in his progression. He’ll get two starts before the season begins, starting with three innings (around 45 pitches) on Thursday.

Sweeney: “Of course I wish he was here the entire camp, but I have no regrets for him to be a part of that tournament. There’s pretty much nothing like it in the world. I was lucky enough to play in it once and to coach in it, and there’s nothing like it. There is inherent risk of injury and guys missing out on time. But there’s nothing like it, and there’s a lot of learning that can happen there.”

Where does Bubic fit in?

The skinny: Bubic will be built up to around four or five innings when the Royals break camp because of the shoulder soreness that delayed his progression. Does that mean the lefty is on the outside of the rotation? Or will the Royals use him as a long reliever to start the season?

Sweeney: “Kris is a starter. I view him as a starter, but if we need him in the bullpen, he might piggyback early in the year if that’s what we decide to do. Say Brady Singer’s not built up enough, is it a piggyback situation? These are all the decisions that are going to be made in the next week or so.”

Back of the bullpen

The skinny: is the incumbent closer, but the Royals aren’t shutting down the option of the role rotating or evolving throughout the season. should also get save opportunities, or those high-leverage spots could come before the ninth inning.

Sweeney: “We have options. We have Scott Barlow, Aroldis Chapman. could do it. , . We have options, and there are guys who have done it before. That’s exciting to have at the back end. … Do you take Scott Barlow, the closer, and put him in that pivotal situation with the 3-4-5 coming up? Or do we have somebody who can fill that void?

“Whoever it might be, , Taylor Clarke. [Manager Matt Quatraro] is a really creative guy, and he’s seen how bullpens have been run differently in Tampa. I’ve been lucky to work with Tito [Terry Francona] in Cleveland. We’re going to be open to ideas of how to piece this game together so we can win.”

Dugout communication

The skinny: Along with Sweeney, the Royals hired Zach Bove as the assistant pitching coach/director of Major League pitching strategy this offseason. Sweeney expects there to be constant communication in the dugout between the two of them, with Bove especially helpful with in-game adjustments.

Sweeney: “When I’m looking left, he’s looking right. That’s what I need, the diversity of thought in the dugout. I think what’s important is in between innings, how can we make adjustments during the game? How can we help that starting pitcher going through the third time through the order? What information do we have that we can nudge him toward in his plan of attack, his profiles?”