Kansas City Royals: Kris Medlen To Begin In Bullpen


Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost announced Friday that Kris Medlen will join the team next week and will start out in the bullpen, according to The Kansas City Star.

This news comes soon after the 29-year-old Medlen pitched seven dominant innings in his last rehab start at AA NW Arkansas on Wednesday. Medlen allowed 3 hits, 2 walks, and struck out four. The question is: why did the KC Royals brain trust have Medlen build up his arm enough to start in the minors, only to put him in the pen in Kansas City?

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Here, I’m going to try to pry into general manager Dayton’s Moore’s thinking. Unfortunately, I don’t have any other tool to do so beside reasoning, and a little common sense.

Obviously, the Kansas City Royals are concerned about Medlen’s elbow as a two-time Tommy John surgery recipient. They don’t want to stress him too much at the major-league level until he gets comfortable when he’s missed more than a season-and-a half of competition. While Kris Medlen played in the minors over the last month, he might be tempted to step it up a notch for “games that count”.

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Now, caution is a good thing (well, at least in this case). Back in May, I wrote that KC Royals fans should not expect Kris Medlen to join the rotation this season. My rationale was the terrible track record of two-time Tommy John survivors trying to start. In short, the list of guys to succeed as a long term starter after two elbow surgeries can be summarized as: Chris Capuano has made over 100 starts.


There are, however, many pitchers who have come back to enjoy significant success after their second ulnar collateral ligament repair in the bullpen. That list includes former Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria, who has shown he’s most of the way back with 20 saves and 3.28 ERA for the Tigers this season.

Ok, great. The KC Royals are cautious. But then, why did they ask former Atlanta ace Kris Medlen to start in AA if they are concerned about his arm?

I think the clear answer is that they hope Medlen start can games in the playoffs. Aside from helping Medlen adjust back to facing major league hitters, the Kansas City Royals don’t want to wear down his arm when they’ve got the best record in the American League.

The harsh truth might be that Medlen only has a few strong starts left in his repaired right elbow. If that is the case, and you’re the KC Royals, you want those vintage starts to come when the games count the most: the playoffs.

Does Medlen’s return affect the team’s desire to acquire an ace before the July 31 trade deadline?

I don’t think so. You can’t really count on Medlen being dominant in the playoffs, but he does give you a decent shot at it. What you’d really like is for the Kansas City Royals to get a horse AND have Medlen in the playoff rotation.

To put it in other terms, Kris Medlen makes a great understudy for the Madison Bumgarner role in case something bad happens. But, you still want to land that bankable star before opening on Broadway.

Next: KC Royals Five Biggest Weaknesses At The All-Star Break

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