The KC Royals new long reliever may have earned another shot at the rotation in Wednesday’s start.
The KC Royals starting pitchers have seen both ups and downs so far this season. Luckily, they are only five games in. There is plenty of time for things to even out. It’s likely Duffy will see a struggle or two, and Brad Keller will shake off his poor opening day start and get back into his rhythm.
The biggest storyline for starters in Kansas City, though, could be what happened in Wednesday’s game against Cleveland. The Royals were unable to pull off the win, but there was some success around the field, most notably, from Jakob Junis.
Junis was set to start on Wednesday after it was announced that Brad Keller would be pushed to Thursday and start against the White Sox. Junis was to start the game in an opener-type situation and after a few innings, likely pass the ball off to another reliever who had been stretched out for a few innings. Once he got started, though, it was obvious the plan changed.
Junis was efficient, keeping his pitch count low and pitching better than fans had seen from the former starter in a while. He eventually made it through five innings (something he didn’t do once in any of his six 2020 starts), striking out six, walking two, allowing only one hit and no runs, and threw 58 pitches.
Junis was afraid he was going to be taken out before the end of the fifth inning, but luckily, he was given the chance to finish it out, just pumping him up even more.
While Junis was a starter for the Royals for multiple seasons, this year looked to be different. His effectiveness continued to decline each season and he was unable to keep things under control in the starting role.
Talk had surfaced throughout the last few years about a move to the bullpen and once the 2020 season ended, it was becoming obvious that Junis may find himself in the reliever role for 2021.
Still, he put in the work over the offseason. Junis struggled to make his once dangerous slider effective in 2020 and knew he needed to figure that out. There was also the suggestion from Cal Eldred, Royals pitching coach, that Jakob might be a good fit to add a cutter.
Junis wasn’t sure, but with the help of his brother, Noah, he started to find his stride. Noah helped Junis to develop a pitching program that not only brought back his slider but also allowed him to add a cutter and a change-up. With the addition of these pitches, Junis’s presence on the mound was sure to known and would keep hitters on their toes.
Junis showed off his new tools, but it was still decided he would be in the bullpen at least to start the 2021 season. Junis wasn’t upset and so far has felt good in his reliever role.
"“As a starter, you’re responsible to go five, six innings, take that load off the bullpen, and that’s a big responsibility to carry a game that long and still put up good numbers and keep your team in the game,” Junis said. “Out of the bullpen, it’s more, ‘I got one inning here to get three outs,’ and do whatever you can to throw up a zero and pass the ball to the next guy. That’s been a lot of fun so far. I think we have a lot of good pieces down in the bullpen and all have confidence in each other to do that and keep the line moving.” mlb.com"
After his Wednesday start, though, Junis may have made enough of an impression to move back to a starting role, at least for one or two more samples.
Junis can be an effective reliever and a bullpen arm that can throw 3 or more innings at almost a moment’s notice is valuable, but for the Royals who seem to be fairly deep with bullpen talent, an effective starter might go much further.
Junis may still be a better option for the bullpen. His ability to pitch long relief is something the Royals have struggled to find and with the past inconsistency of their starters, is something they might need. Junis has at least earned the possibility of another look as a starter though.
The Royals want to win and if Junis can see success in the rotation, that’s where he is needed most.
So far this season, Junis has pitched seven innings, has given up no runs, walked two, and struck out nine. The sample is small, but it’s an outstanding start to the season for the pitcher who struggled through 2020.
There will likely be some speculation surrounding Junis for the next few days from fans if they will see him in relief or for another start. Either way, it’s obvious that Junis has found a way to improve his pitching and get back on track to once again be effective on the mound.
Jakob Junis has had a great start to the season both in the bullpen and as a starter. His role may change as the season moves, but his effectiveness looks to be back in full force.