After the Royals fell to 2-5 with a dismal offensive performance in a 2-0 shutout on Monday – the Royals first Home Opener shutout since 1971, the Royals sent down a man who shouldn’t have even made the roster, Terrance Gore, to NW Arkansas after he made his only appearance of the season pinch-running for Salvador Perez in the ninth inning. Another roster move came down yesterday, with the struggling Matt Strahm sent to Triple-A Omaha.
After his performance through the first week, his demotion should come as no surprise. He’s 0-2 with a 47.50 ERA and 7.50 WHIP so far in 2017 (1.1 IP in 3 appearances), after dominating hitters in 2016 to the tune of a 1.23 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 22 innings last year. Command has been a major issue, as has twice as many walks this year.
“I just need to stay on top of the ball,” Strahm said after Sunday’s loss, where he walked two in a row for a literal Astros walk-off in the 12th inning. “I see the problem, but I need to correct it.”
Manager Ned Yost said after that game that they were going to start using him differently, in lower leverage situations. I guess today they decided that meant going to Omaha.
“He didn’t have to endure any of this last year,” Yost said. “So it’s a bunch to process and try to figure it out. But a lot of it’s mechanical.”
But, it is somewhat surprising, considering Strahm opened the season slotted into a late-inning role, expected to share the 8th with Joakim Soria, based on matchups. Something that started as mechanical likely turned mental and it was something he wasn’t going to fix here.
“He’s not far off,” Pitching Coach Super Dave Eiland said. “He’s just got to get back to the mind-set of trusting his stuff, believing in it and just stay back over the rubber a little bit longer. That’s an easy correction.”
We all know the Royals bullpen needs help. They’ve allowed 19 earned runs in 22 innings (7.77 ERA) with the AL’s worst WHIP (1.77), walk rate (18.6%) and second-worst left-on base percentage (57.5%). It’s a far cry from when Kansas City’s B-BOAT (Best Bullpen of All-Time) from 2014-2015, but the departures of Wade Davis (Jorge Soler trade), Greg Holland (injury/free agency), Ryan Madson (free agency) and Luke Hochevar (injury/free agency), all that is left standing is Kelvin Herrera, the once 7th-inning man, then 8th-inning last year, to closer this year. The bullpen took a step back last season, recording 19 blown saves, but still finished with the third best bullpen, using ERA (3.45) in the AL – but it was not lights out like it once was. It went from historic to beatable, and despite still being good, it seemed bad. That seems even worse this year. In addition, they’re now the oldest bullpen in MLB and the group average VELO has dropped for the fourth straight season (94.2 to 92.6)
There are a few candidates to replace him: left-hander Scott Alexander and right-handers Kevin McCarthy as well as non-40-man guys Bobby Parnell or Yander Caramo, – although both seem very unlikely because they would have to remove some off the 40-man roster and expose him to the rest of the league.
There’s an outside chance that it could be power arm Josh Staumont, although the Royals want to keep him as staring pitcher as long as they can – although they certainly could call him up in the second of the season to try and limit his innings. There’s also Jake Junis, another starting pitcher, who the Royals view as a potential backend of the bullpen guy in the future.
Then, there’s Kyle Zimmer, who was promoted yesterday to Omaha after just one start at NW Arkansas (4 IP, 1 ER, 6 K) and we wondered if this was a fast-track move to the show – as a reliever:
Zimmer should get the call NOW and could easily be the seventh inning man within a few outings. He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in July – a procedure that essentially ended Chris Carpenter’s career and was one of the final straws before Josh Beckett was forced into early retirement. Perhaps no pitching injury has been as consistently limiting in recent years as Zimmer’s ailing right shoulder. He has only logged 78.1 innings since the start of 2014 and only 71.1 innings above High-A. There is no denying that he still has frontline stuff, as he logged a 2.30 ERA and 88:30 K:BB since the start of 2014, however, his inability to overcome the shoulder issue and this subsequent surgery overshadow all of the potential he demonstrates when he toes the rubber. We projected him to make the roster to break camp because it was, “we have to get something out of him before he gets hurt again” time, and for similar reasons, they should use him NOW and if he makes it through 2017 healthy, he could slide into the rotation, likely in Vargas’ spot for 2018. A big IF. His stuff (mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a devastating power slider) is MLB ready, but is the former top pitching prospect ready? If Moore and Ned are willing to go with Mondesi (which seems to be a direct contradiction to the Royals “win now” mode), then they should do the same with Zimmer. This could limit his innings in an attempt to keep him healthy enough to actually pitch an entire season and could easily be one of the best relievers the second he arrives – a boost in the arm to the bullpen. A power arm, too with two plus pitches – perfect for a bullpen role.
The Royals will also have to fill the roster vacancy left behind from Gore’s demotion. The easy thing to do would replace with him with another outfielder, such as masher Peter O’Brien, or Dyson 2.0-lite Billy Burns or super-utility Whit Merrified until Soler, who is eligible to return, but just recently started swinging a bat and will certainly need a rehab stint. With Soler’s return looming, it might not make a lot of sense to bring up O’Brien, although he would be a perfect platoon partner with Brandon Moss, but that would mean less AB for Cheslor Cuthbert. Merrifield can play anywhere and could add some depth or some insurance for Mondesi, who is just 3-for-21 this season, but the Royals want him in there everyday. Burns could easily fill the Gore role, but can be trusted at the plate on in the field, unlike Gore.
Another option, and probably most likely, would be an 8-man bullpen. Although likely temporary until Soler is activated, it could present some issues for the roster, as Moss, when he is DH’ing, is the only backup outfielder.
We’ll know the answer(s) soon.
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