Although their starting rotation disappointed again in 2021, the back of the bullpen gave the KC Royals little to complain about. A season after leading the majors in appearances while playing second fiddle to Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, Scott Barlow staked an early claim to the closer’s role and held it for the season, pitching so well that local writers voted him the club’s top 2021 pitcher.
And Josh Staumont became a late inning fixture with a 4-3, five save, 2.88 ERA record in 64 games. Greg Holland, despite a high 4.85 ERA and a few bumps in the road, saved eight games. Jake Brentz, who pitched almost exclusively from the seventh inning on, faltered a bit in the second half but still impressed with a 5-2, 3.66 first campaign.
The rest of the pen, however, was shaky and inconsistent and requires offseason attention. There are holes to fill—Richard Lovelady had his best season yet but will miss most, and perhaps all, of 2022 building back from Tommy John Surgery. (The club non-tendered him Tuesday but re-signed him to a minor league deal the next day). Kyle Zimmer, Scott Blewett and Jakob Junis are gone. Wade Davis retired, although his poor season made a return to Kansas City unlikely, and the team may be ready to bid Holland and Ervin Santana farewell.
And despite pitching well after the club obtained them during the season, the Royals needs to see how Domingo Tapia and Joel Payamps fare over an entire Kansas City campaign.
But the Royals may be making progress in retooling the pen. Wednesday, following an obviously quiet search for relief help and after re-signing Lovelady (and outfielder JaCoby Jones) earlier in the day, the club landed a former Arizona reliever just hours before the lockout started.
Taylor Clarke is now a Royal. When he’ll debut with Kansas City is, considering baseball’s first work stoppage in a generation, anyone’s guess. But his $975,000 deal, well above the major league minimum, suggests he’ll be in the bullpen Opening Day.
Although the Diamondbacks used him as a starter 20 times during his Arizona tenure, the balance of his 70 appearances were in relief. Strictly a reliever in 2021, he went 1-3, 4.98 in 43 games.
Clarke was 9-8, 4.99 in his three Diamondback seasons. His major league debut came in an April 2019 game against the Cubs—he pitched the last three innings of a 6-0 Arizona victory to earn his first career save. Clarke held Chicago scoreless, struck out two, and surrendered just one hit.
He’s also 41-27, 3.60 over parts of six minor league campaigns.
The 28-year old righthander relies primarily on a four-seamer, slider, curve and change, all of which have increased in velocity during his short big league career.
How should the KC Royals utilize new signee Taylor Clarke next season?
Much like Brentz, Clarke drew primarily late inning duty in 2021, but that role might not be what the Royals have in mind, especially considering they already have Barlow, Staumont and Brentz. And although he’s been a starter, Kansas City has enough youngsters in the rotation who are learning and need work. That makes middle relief Clarke’s more likely assignment, but an occasional long relief stint, and maybe even a start or two, aren’t out of the question.
Of some concern is the right teres major injury that forced Clarke out of action for almost two months in 2021. He went on the Injured List in mid-June, didn’t pitch in the majors again until August 5, and went 0-3 and gave up 13 runs (10 earned) in 9.2 innings before Arizona optioned him to Triple-A Reno. He pitched for the Aces five times before the season ended, giving up only one run in five innings.
Clarke also had Tommy John Surgery during his collegiate career.
Kansas City signed pitcher Taylor Clarke just before the lockout began. He’ll probably work in middle relief.