KC Royals Roster: Choosing the 2021 pitching staff

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KC Royals, Greg Holland
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Are there any surprises among KC Royals relievers who seem to have the club made?

“To Be Determined” best described Jakob Junis’ role when spring training opened last month. A positive COVID-19 test delayed the start of his 2020 season, back spasms later interrupted it, he appeared to lose the rotation spot he’d enjoyed for three seasons, and he didn’t pitch effectively until hurling two scoreless relief innings in the final week.

Now, however, Junis is an absolute lock to make the club. He’s the most logical Royal choice for long relief, and a solid spring—10 strikeouts, no walks, and only one run and two hits surrendered in seven innings—puts him squarely back in the club’s plans. Whether he’ll fill Bubic’s rotation slot if Bubic isn’t ready when it’s time to return to a five-man rotation remains to be seen, but Junis will be in Kansas City Opening Day.

Two mainstays of the KC Royals’ World Series teams will be back together

If the now-retired Kelvin Herrera had been available and effective, Kansas City fans may have been treated to the return of “H-D-H,” the historic bullpen threesome of Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland that contributed so much to the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 World Series trips. But two-thirds of that trio may be enough: Holland and Davis will pitch together again this season.

Holland made good on his opportunity to return to KC last season and was closing by the end of the campaign. He’s the presumed closer after not giving up any runs and averaging more than a strikeout per inning in his first six games this spring; his first Cactus League trouble Saturday against Milwaukee (three runs on four hits in a third of an inning) won’t jeopardize his place in the pen.

Davis making the club after signing a minor league deal was far from a given, and maybe even a long shot, but he’s all but certain to rejoin the Royals’ big league roster. His six scoreless appearances, veteran presence, and championship experience and mindset should see to that. And he appears to have shaken the injuries that that plagued him the past two seasons in Colorado.

Related Story. Can Wade Davis make the bullpen better?. light

Four other relievers should definitely make the KC Royals’ Opening Day roster

Expect to see Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Jesse Hahn and Richard Lovelady at Kauffman Stadium Thursday when the Royals open against Texas.

Barlow is an easy choice. A bullpen workhorse the past two seasons—he pitched 61 times in 2019 and led the majors in appearances (32) last year—he’s good for more than his share of strikeouts (11.4 career SO9) and hasn’t given up an earned run this spring. He’s struggled occasionally with control (3.8 career BB9), but is still effective.

Staumont is also a no-brainer. The Royals need his blazing fastball and ability to dominate in the late innings; he sometimes struggles with control, but is still a lock. Although a bout with COVID-19 delayed his arrival in camp, and he’s working his way back into shape, Staumont fanned four Brewers in two innings Saturday.

Hahn has quietly made himself indispensable. His first season in Kansas City was rough—0-1, 13.50 ERA in six 2019 appearances—but he gave up only one run and averaged almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings in18 relief appearance last season. He has a 1.50 ERA this spring.

And then there’s Lovelady who, despite a shaky major league record (0-3, 7.71 in parts of two Royal seasons) should make the club. He’s 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 7.2 innings this spring, and is tied for the club lead in appearances with nine. His excellent minor league record and limited big league experience warrant more of a shot than he’s received. And he’d be the only lefthander in the bullpen: the three-batter rule reduces, but doesn’t eliminate, the need for lefty relievers.