Back when Bruce Chen was resigned by the Royals, it made sense. At the time, Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura were expected to fill out the final two spots in the rotation, so having a veteran presence that could slide into the rotation should either pitcher falter made sense. In fact, Chen thrived in that role last season, putting together the best full season of his career.
However, Ned Yost promised Chen a spot in the rotation to start the year. Based on his 2013 performance, that also made a degree of sense, even though it would relegate a pitcher with more upside to either the bullpen or the minors. Both have happened with Duffy thus far, as he made one minor league start before being called back up and filling a long relief role for the Royals. Even if Duffy was to have remained in the minors, it was expected to be a matter of time before he regained that spot in the Royals rotation.
It seems as though that time may be fast approaching. Bruce Chen struggled for his second consecutive start, and has allowed ten runs on fifteen hits and six walks over his last 8.2 innings of work. Chen has been dealing with a glute injury, which moved his start back from Thursday to yesterday, which may account for those struggles. However, if the injury is affecting his ability to the point where Chen Music is only hitting sour notes, something needs to be done.
As Chen’s injury is considered minor in nature, at least to this point, the Royals may simply look to skip his next start on Thursday against the Cleveland Indians. Perhaps the additional rest would allow Chen to heal up, and let him pitch at the level that Yost and the Royals are accustomed to. Otherwise, if Chen truly is healthy and is just struggling this badly, he may be finding himself on a short leash going forward.
Despite Ned Yost being loyal to a fault to his players, there comes a point in time where present production has to matter. Although it is early in the season, Bruce Chen has not exactly pitched well aside from his first outing. Duffy, meanwhile, has pitched 6.1 shutout innings of relief, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out nine batters. Should both trends continue, how much longer can the Royals keep sending out Chen?
The Kansas City Royals entered this season with playoff aspirations; however, they have a very small margin for error. In order to make the playoffs, the Royals need virtually everything to go right. The Royals, regardless of how much loyalty Yost may have, cannot afford to have Chen continuing to struggle every fifth day. Just look to last year – the continued instance of starting Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza may have cost the Royals a legitimate chance at the postseason. Hopefully, that type of mistake will not happen again this year.
It is not likely that Bruce Chen will lose his spot in the rotation due to two bad starts, but his time may be growing short. Every excellent outing by Danny Duffy, combined with Chen’s struggles, could make that change to the rotation happen sooner than expected.