Normally, the 25 men who break spring training and head north get more than seven days to make mistakes or earn the manager’s trust before the braintrust decides “Yeah, that’ll do,” or “Wow, we gotta make a switch.”
So to send Terrance Gore and Matt Strahm down after a week speaks volumes not only about their performance (or not even, in Gore’s case) but about the KC Royals mindset.
It’s hard to blame Gore, whose calling card is his world-class speed and who got precisely one opportunity to display said wheels before being sent to Northwest Arkansas. Jarrod Dyson Lite couldn’t affect the game very much when his big chance was pinch-running in the ninth inning of a game the Royals collected all of three hits in.
Gore’s booting had less to do with him than it did with clear and utter ineptitude emanating from the bullpen at every turn. No one feels remotely safe at any point once the starter takes his exit, nor should they. Scott Alexander and Jake Junis are unlikely to be any worse than what’s already hanging around in the bullpen.
(Why poor Gore was the man on the chopping block when it’s Raul Mondesi Jr. who isn’t cutting
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the mustard at the big-league level is a story for another day. Wither Whit Merrifiedl, I ask you.)
Now Strahm on the other hand… Strahm is supposed to be SOMETHING. In a bullpen filled with retreads, Strahm was supposed to be the electric young arm, learning how to pitch alongside a bunch of vets and finding his place—bullpen or rotation, as all could use the help—in the KC Royals future.
So getting demoted for Scott Alexander… that has to sting.
The problem—and the panic—don’t necessarily stem from Sunday’s craptacular outing at Houston. There’s a reasonable expectation that, had Strahm not deflected George Springer’s grounder—limiting Cheslor Cuthbert, playing out of position at second, in his ability to make the play—and had a natural second baseman been at the bag on Carlos Correa’s potentially game-ending double-play ball to Mike Moustakas at third, maybe a clearly-rattled Strahm, with his defense disintegrating behind him, doesn’t issue back-to-back walks to Brian McCann and Evan Gattis to force in the winning run.
The problem here is that a 25-year old with less than 25 big-league innings is being asked to pitch the 12th against one of the AL’s best offenses, or as first guy out of the bullpen in the seventh (like his blow-up against Minnesota). Not every pitcher is wired to jump right into those situations. Not everyone is Kelvin Herrera, and it’s irresponsible of Ned Yost to manage like they are.
I’ve no doubt Strahm will be back, and he’ll be fine—lessons learned and all that. But the sense of panic, barely a week into the season, has little to do with the ballplayers and everything to do with the temperament of the people in charge of the KC Royals.