Sometime soon, the Kansas City Royals will have a decision to make. Bruce Chen, who has been sidelined since April 25th due to a back injury, is continuing to progress in his rehab. As Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweeted last night, Chen is slated to make a start for the Omaha Storm Chasers on Sunday, as he takes his final steps towards returning to the major leagues.
At that point, the Royals will need to determine what to do with Chen. While there is an old adage that players do not lose their spot due to injury, Chen may be in danger of having that very scenario happen. After all, Danny Duffy has done a solid job since entering the rotation, as his 2-4 record belies his overall performance. Duffy’s 3.27 ERA and 1.152 WHiP certainly speak to his maturation and ability as a starter.
The same problems with finding a spot for Bruce Chen in the rotation extend to the rest of the starters. Jeremy Guthrie has the highest ERA of the starters at 4.00 entering last night, but he also has the best WHiP at 1.246 thus far in 2014. As Guthrie has been quite good at keeping the Royals within a run of their opponents each time out, he is not likely to lose his spot either.
As it presently stands, the most likely place for Bruce Chen would be bullpen, where he could function once again in the spot starter/long relief role that he performed so well in last year. Such a role would also help to solidify the Royals bullpen, as they have struggled to find that final piece. Neither Louis Coleman nor Michael Mariot have exactly established themselves as solid pieces of the bullpen this year.
If healthy and back to the form he had in his first start, Bruce Chen can still play a very important role for the Royals. Ned Yost trusts the crafty lefty, and adding him back into the bullpen could help put the middle relievers back into their accustomed roles. With Chen and Wade Davis capable of pitching multiple innings if need be, the rest of the relief corp could be used in situations they are better suited for.
Bruce Chen will likely be back in Kansas City within the next week or two. Unless things change, his role could be the same as it was last season, as the Royals long reliever.