Chris Young likely the odd man out in all of a sudden crowded Royals rotation…Should he be?

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Two pitchers will be joining the active roster next Tuesday. The first, Jason Vargas, will be returning from the DL for the second time this season, rejoining the rotation against the Pirates. The other, Kris Medlen, who made his final rehab start on Wednesday at NW Arkansas – tossing seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits while walking two and striking out four (1-1, 3.56 ERA in six rehab starts) – despite crazy speculation that he may come back to the team as a starting pitcher despite all the guys already up here and Ned saying when Medlen started his rehab that they were going to be “ultra conservative” when he finally comes off the DL. Does that sound like someone who is going to start…especially coming off his second Tommy John surgery? Dayton Moore himself said just yesterday that the club still hasn’t decided whether he’ll start or relieve. “It’s a fluid situation, obviously,” he said.

I think it was pretty evident that he won’t be starting, and might not all season, unless it’s an emergency situation (although I do think he’ll be in the rotation in 2016).

Medlen’s month-long rehab stint officially ends tomorrow, but, the Royals don’t have to activate him until Monday. With the two pitchers returning, Brandon Finnegan and Joe Blanton seem like the roster moves that make the most sense. And hopefully, Finnegan, who was a starter in the minors and a reliever up in the bigs and back three times already this year (and a reliever briefly in the minors, too), will return to starting pitching and stay down there until the minor league season is over, and Blanton, who was serviceable in his time in the rotation, will probably by DFA’d. After that, who knows what happens to him.

Let’s take a look at the current starters:

Yordano Ventura (4-6, 4.73 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

Ventura returned to the rotation last Thursday in the final game of a four-game sweep of the visiting Rays. He looked great for three innings, started to lose it in the fourth, and struggled in the fifth, but battled through the three-run inning and left the game with a 4-3 lead, and earned the win after the Royals went on to a 9-3 win.

It’s been a strange year for the youngster. His peripherals are not that bad. His WHIP is below his career mark and our projected mark, but his ERA is inflated compared to his career mark and our projected mark. His walk to strikeout rate is not that bad. He went seven innings in half of his 12 starts. He is fourth on the team in quality starts (5) despite a stint on the DL. Let’s face it, Ventura is not going to the minors, nor is he going to the bullpen, and if healthy (it’s a wait and see at this point), he’s probably the best starter on the staff. Hopefully the nerve and numbness issues subside, and Ventura, who’s velocity has been down this season, he revs up the gas.

Danny Duffy (3-4, 4.64 ERA, 1.55 WHIP)

Duffy took a shutout into the eighth inning on April 30 against Detroit and the Royals won four of his first five starts. Then, May – where he threw just 9.2 innings in three starts, posting a 13.03 ERA, walking 10, striking out seven as opponents hit a healthy .341 against him – and a DL stint happened. Since his return, Duffy, who has made some changes to his delivery, has pitched into the seventh inning twice and pitched six scoreless innings in his last start – his first start without allowing an earned run since April 24 while matching his first matching a season-low four hits – in four starts. Over that span, the 26-year-old has allowed seven runs in 23.2 innings – good for a 2.66 ERA – lowering his season ERA more than a run from 5.87 to 4.64 ERA and his WHIP from 1.70 to 1.55.

Duffy, much like Ventura, is a huge piece the Royals need to be right down the stretch if they want to get back to the World Series. He’s really had only one bad month and the team is 7-5 in his starts. Much like Ventura, he isn’t going to the minors, and based on his post-DL stuff, he’s sticking in the rotation.

Edinson Volquez (8-4, 3.31 ERA, 1.24 WHIP)

“Steady Eddy” takes the mound tonight in the second game of the day-night double header with the team seven winning his last seven starts. His last start was a doozy. Given a 7-run lead after Royals dropped a 7-spot in the first, he took a shutout into the sixth inning where Toronto scored eight – seven unearned – off him and Ryan Madson. But, despite that, he allowed just one earned run and lowered his ERA nine points. Thanks to low run support, the Royals won just two of his first seven starts, but since, they’ve won nine of the last 11.

He has not made it out of the sixth in any of his last three starts, which is a big reason why he hasn’t been able to build on a four-game winning streak, thanks to three straight no-decisions. But, his 39 walks are the fifth fewest among qualified starters in the American League and his win percentage (.667) ranks seventh.

Best starter on the team so far.

This leaves us with two guys: Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young. Let’s examine the two.

Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 5.36 ERA, 1.49 WHIP)

One would look at Guthrie’s stats and instantly want to remove him from the rotation. But, there are some other things to consider here. Outside the epic bad start at Yankee Stadium – where he was the first pitcher to allow 11 runs while throwing fewer than 60 pitches since Jason Jennings for the Astros on July 29, 2007 (somehow doing it on just 39 pitches!!), the fourth pitcher ever and just the second starter (Jennings the other) to allow 11 runs in two innings or fewer and the last starter to allow four hoe runs while pitching fewer than two innings since Jae Kuk Ryu as a Cub on May 28, 2006 – he’s been solid, considering. Yes, he’s allowing just 5.6 innings per start, has only seven quality starts, has allowed 13 HR and owns just 50 strikeouts in 95.2 innings. But, in his last 12 starts, he has allowed three earned runs or less, 10 times, with six of his seven quality starts coming in that span, with the Royals going 8-4 in those starts. And, in eight starts since that Memorial Day start at Yankee Stadium, he’s posted a 3.99 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP, going 3-2 (team 5-3), in 47.1 IP. Pretty solid.

Chris Young (8-5, 3.03 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)

Where would the Royals be without Chris Young? A simple, short answer: not in first place.

He is tied for the team lead in wins and is fifth in the AL in WHIP (1.04), but, he has slowly regressed toward the mean. Today, after walking four and allowing two HR in five innings, Young’s ERA topped out at a season-worst 3.03. It was his first win in four July starts (team 2-2). He posted a 1.86 ERA in April and 1.45 in May, but since, he’s 3-4 in nine starts, allowing 7 HR, with a 4.27 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.

Over the last couple months, you could argue that Guthrie has been better than Young. So, Young is the most logical candidate to head to the bullpen. He may have regressed, but he has been a blessing for the Royals this year. He’s been huge, and earned an A on our Mid-Season Grade Card. We’ll likely need him to start again this year. You can never have enough pitching. It’s the currency of baseball. This, for the Royals, is a good problem to have. A lot better than when Blanton was in the rotation. Now, two starting pitchers in the bullpen. And, we have some more reinforcements on the way, too. Finnegan will be back in September, and fellow top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, who is dominating in the minors this year between two levels (1-0, 0.78 ERA in 23 innings across 13 games with a 1.00 WHIP and a 32/8 KK/BB), will likely be here too – both guys working out of the bullpen.

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