When the Royals put out their lineup for Tuesday’s spring training game against the Seattle Mariners, scheduled starter Bruce Chen was swapped out for Sugar Ray Marimon, but left available in the bullpen.
Speculation started about a potential trade (as teams like the Mets are being hit by injuries and could use some arms to help fill in), but finally, VP of Media and Broadcasting Mike Swanson tweeted that Chen would be the team’s long reliever and Luis Mendoza would be the Royals fifth starter to open the year. The move was later confirmed by the official team Twitter account.
Camp opened up with Chen, Luke Hochevar and Mendoza fighting for the fifth starter spot. Hochevar was sent to the bullpen last week but it still seemed like the Royals favored Chen – and his $4.5 million salary – over Mendoza. After a strong winter ball season, Mendoza had a 0.82 ERA in 11 spring innings and had walked just two batters with the Royals. Chen, by contrast, had surrendered 12 earned runs in 13.2 innings and gave up seven homers. Arizona isn’t the best environment for him as a fly ball pitcher, and perhaps, like last year, he was working on a few things, but the performance was so stark that the Royals made the call to go with Mendoza.
Chen to the bullpen could impact other decisions. While he isn’t a specialist against lefties, it may compel the Royals to stick with a right-hander when choosing their last relief pitcher, meaning Louis Coleman, J.C. Gutierrez, or Dan Wheeler (on a minor league deal) could win that job. That would shut out Donnie Joseph and Francisley Bueno. Both lefties have thrown well this spring, but both have options.