As Royals rotation starts to turn the corner, it’ll be tested with insertion of Joe Blanton

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Who envisioned a rotation of Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Young, Edinson Volquez, Joe Blanton and Yordano Ventura in mid-June?

Dayton Moore, maybe?

Anyone else who imagined it considered it a scary notion.

You can never have enough pitching. They say a team needs eight starters to make it through a season. But, I never imagined a scenario that featured Joe Blanton in the rotation this early into the season, if at all, without thinking the Royals NOT being in bad, bad shape.

But somehow, here we are, a first place team with Joe Blanton in the rotation.

This is reality. Just as the offense slowly regressed toward the mean, and then all of a sudden one of the worst offenses in baseball (http://kcsportsnation.com/2015/06/the-royals-are-back-but-is-the-offense/) – the pitching has picked up the slack. This trend is certainly going to be tested, now.

Although former highly-touted prospect John Lamb (still just 24; 6-1, 2.78 ERA in 10 starts (55 innings) with a 1.327 WHIP), who was pulled last night in Omaha after four innings – likely as a precaution to Ventura’s most recent bout with numbness, the fourth time he has left a start early this year (three times because of a “health” reason) – would have been a better option, this is the hand we have been dealt. Blanton, who was 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA in 2013 and other than two starts in Triple-A Sacramento was out of baseball in 2014, is now in the rotation. Scary, scary stuff. Although he has been better than expected so far – a 1.80 ERA, 1.133 WHIP in 15 innings of relief with the big club and 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA, 1.119 WHIP in AAA Omaha as a starter – the thought of him starting games for this team is downright scary. Not bringing up Lamb is a sign that it’s a temporary fix and they’ll try to get by with him making a couple starts before Duffy returns. Duff Man threw 50 pitches in a rehab start on Tuesday and will take the mound again tomorrow with a 65 pitch limit. Initially, manager Ned Yost said that he would not bring Duffy back until he throws 100 pitches, which was originally scheduled for June 24. There wasn’t a big hurry to get him back here before the Vargas injury because there wasn’t a lot of options of players to remove from the roster and which starter would be removed from the rotation when he does come back.

“Yeah. I mean, he has got to throw good,” Yost said. “If he’s not, I’m not putting him back in the rotation. But if he’s throwing good, which I fully expect him to do, he goes back in.”

Will that timetable change at all now?

Young, who started the season as the long man, is 5-2 with a 2.25 ERA and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his last start Tuesday and also threw five no-hit innings in his first start. He allowed 12 of his 16 runs in consecutive starts, both losses, during the Royals 2-9 stretch. A left flexor strain is commonly a precursor to Tommy John. Now Vargas, who went six scoreless innings in his last outing but left after throwing just 70 pitches, is on the DL with that injury for the second time this season. Isn’t it inevitable that he’s headed under the knife sometime soon? Vargas’ (5-2) scattered five hits while striking out two and he did not walk a batter on Monday, lowering his ERA to 4.10. It was the first time he hadn’t allowed a run in a start this season. He has not pitched past the sixth inning in any of his eight starts this season, but he has earned a quality start in three of his last four starts and is 4-1 in his last five starts, dating back to April 27. In that span, he has a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings pitched. His only loss was a four-inning outing at Yankee Stadium on May 26 in his first start back from the DL, where he struck out a season-high six.

Jeremy Guthrie (4-4, 5.79 ERA) had arguably one the worst starts in baseball history on Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium (1 IP, 11 ER, 9 hits, 3 BB, 4 HR). Today was his next worst start in a string of seven starts in that span, allowing three runs as he grinded through 102 pitches in five innings, allowing 10 hits and striking out four. He had allowed just five hits in 11 1/3 IP in his last two starts before today, but he kept the team in the game when he was getting hit hard. In his last seven starts (three quality), he is 3-2 (4-3 team record) with a 5.20 ERA, 1.459 WHIP in 36.1 IP, with 18 strikeouts, 10 walks, allowing 43 hits (6 HR) – a not so healthy .394 batting average against. Someone on Royals Facebook says I’m cherry picking, but take away that horrific start, he is 3-1 (4-2 team record) with a 2.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 35.1 IP, with 17 K, 10 BB, allowing 34 hits. I’ll take that from Guthrie anytime. The Royals are 7-5 in his starts this season, which isn’t all Guthrie, but…

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The Royals offensive woes continued in today’s 3-2 loss. They had just five hits, but two of them were homers. Dead last now in the American League in HR, Alex Gordon gave the Royals a 1-0 lead with his eighth dong of 2015 and 21st career interleague HR in the second inning. Starting pitcher Tyler Lyons, called up to start today, had held lefties to a .188 average for his career and Gordon was the only one in the starting lineup against him as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were not in the starting lineup (AND ALEX RIOS, owner of four hits in 38 AB since his return from the DL was hitting THIRD!!!). Salvador Perez hit his team-leading 10th leading HR to tie the game in the top of the fourth immediately after the Cardinals got two runs off Guthrie in the Bottom of the third. Perez is now one of two catchers in MLB to hit 10 HR in each of the last four seasons.

Each team had runners on third and one out in the first inning, with the starters both striking out the next two batters. The Royals (34-25) went 0-7 with runners in scoring position and are now 0-11 in the series (hitting .152 with RISP on the road trip). They also had runners on third and one out in the sixth inning, but could not score. In that inning and the eighth, the Royals had two guys on when the third out was recorded. The Cardinals, now 20 games above .500 (41-21), scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fifth off Guthrie with a Mark Reynolds go-ahead HR.

Lorenzo Cain had two hits, doubling in the first and singling in the eight, and stole a base and Perez added a second hit with a two-out eighth inning in the single before Gordon popped up to second base to end that threat.

Ned Yost elected NOT to pinch hit for Christian Colon in the sixth with the tying run on third base against right-handed Matt Belise, intead saving Moose for part of a double switch, batting second in the original pitcher’s spot in the seventh.

“I felt comfortable with him hitting there,” Yost added postgame.

The Cardinals improved to a MLB-best 24-7 at home while the Royals lost their first interleague road series since June 8-10, 2012 at Pittsburgh. It marked the 12th time in the last 17 games where they scored two runs or less. The Royals are 6-11 in those games AND averaging just 2.3 runs per contest in that stretch. Kansas City is now 8-1 in 2015 and 27-5 in the last two seasons when hitting multiple HR.

Meanwhile, Omar Infante’s slump – one of the worst I’ve ever seen – continues. He’s now 5 for his last 62 (.081). His OBP and SLUG are also both .081.

“He’s doing things that can help us win ballgames,” Yost added.

Oh, really?

To fill Vargas’ roster spot, Brandon Finnegan was recalled again. He will be the new long man as Blanton assumes a role in the rotation. He will make his first start Tuesday. With the off day, Young and Volquez will move a day and pitch tomorrow and Monday. Volquez (5-4, 3.07 ERA) won for the first time in five road starts in Wednesday’s 7-2 win to complete the sweep of the Twins. It was just the second time in nine starts that he had went seven innings, but he has easily been the Royals best starter. He has allowed one run or fewer in five of his 11 starts and leads the team with seven quality starts.

The starting pitching has leveled out producing a 4.36 ERA with 16 quality starts in 37 games since May 1, the date the Royals offense slowly trended from a torrid hitting team to what they were a year ago – a team that lacks pop and struggles to get on base. Prior to May 1, in the first 22 games of the season, the Royals rotation had an ERA of 4.25, but they were not going deep into the games, with just seven quality starts in 22 games, a lower quality start rate than they’re producing now. Since May 24, they’re allowing just 3.9 runs per contest in that stretch – that’s counting the 14 runs in one game in Guthrie’s debacle – that should be plenty good enough to win games in the American League. But, it’s no wonder the Royals are only 6-11 the last 17 games. Pitching almost has to be perfect to win when you’re scoring just 2.3 runs per game.

So far, despite the early season rotation struggles and the lackluster effort from the guys who opened the season as the No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Ventura (3-6, 4.68 ERA – only three innings in each of his last two starts, although he is second on the team with six quality starts) and Duffy (2-3, 5.87 ERA, 1.70 WHIP in eight starts), the Royals have managed – quite a testament to their depth. But, dipping deep into the starting pitching well for Joe Blanton is a scary thing.

Maybe, it’ll be another Dayton Moore success story? I’m not holding my breath.

May the Force be with us.

#ForeverRoyal

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