KC Royals Day Off: The roster and other questions

(Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Fresh off Thursday’s 3-1 Opening Day victory over Cleveland, the KC Royals are already enjoying a break today. They don’t resume their four-game series with the Guardians until Saturday afternoon.

So, what’s a fan to do with no Royals baseball to watch or listen to?

Get some answers to a few questions, for one.

Here goes.

How did the KC Royals finalize their initial 28-man active roster Thursday?

Kansas City doesn’t ever seem to rush releasing its first active roster of the season, and this year was no different. While some teams revealed roster compositions Wednesday, the Royals didn’t reveal theirs until Thursday, and then with little fanfare—owing from a lockout-shortened spring training, all major league clubs can carry two extra players through May 1, and there were no last-minute shocks among KC’s 28-player roster.

The club put to rest any suspense about top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. with Tuesday’s disclosure that he’d made the team. Position players Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor and Hunter Dozier, and pitchers Zack Greinke, Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont, Daniel Lynch and Jake Brentz were locks.

So, too, were pitchers Carlos Hernández and Dylan Coleman, whose good 2021 showings made their Opening Day roster spots relatively secure, and the club didn’t trade for Amir Garrett or sign Taylor Clarke just to cut them after spring training. And not surprisingly, the club elected to give Jackson Kowar another chance after his rough rookie stints with the club last season.

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Rounding out the 15-man pitching staff (the club can carry only 13 hurlers after May 1) are Gabe Speier, who pitched well enough last season (1.17 ERA, five strikeouts and no walks in 7.2 innings) to deserve at least an early season shot, and rookie Collin Snider, whose 1-0, 1.35 Cactus League record made him hard to resist.

The late March options of catcher MJ Melendez and first baseman Nick Pratto to Triple-A Omaha solidified the roles of Cam Gallagher (Perez’s backup) and Ryan O’Hearn (bat off the bench). And Kansas City answered one of its biggest questions—whether to keep Edward Olivares or Kyle Isbel—by keeping them both.

What can we expect from KC Royals starter Brad Keller in Saturday’s game?

This is a good question with no certain answer. Scheduled to start Saturday’s contest against Cleveland, Keller is a four-season veteran of Kansas City’s rotation, but an inconsistent and unpredictable enigma whose pitching fortunes have alternated between odd and even years. Even years are his best (9-6, 3.08 in 2018 and 5-3, 2.47 in 2020) and the seasons he won his two club Pitcher of the Year awards, but odd years are his worst (7-14, 4.19 in 2019, 8-12, 5.39 last season).

And although he gave up six earned runs in 7.1 Cactus League innings this spring, exhibition contest results are typically difficult to measure and evaluate.

So, to answer the question: we’ll know how Keller did sometime Saturday evening.

Should Royals reliever Scott Barlow have pitched two innings on Opening Day?

Kansas City manager Mike Matheny probably pondered this same question late in Thursday’s game. Although he doesn’t seem to like referring to his closers as closers since taking over the Royals, Barlow is his closer and thus a valuable component of the KC bullpen, one to be protected from unnecessary risk.

Justified or not, pitching more than an inning is considered risky for closers these days, and working in conditions like Thursday’s—windy with occasional drizzle and rain, and cold with game-time temperatures in the 40’s—compounds the risk for relievers not as stretched out as starters.

Yet there was Barlow replacing Josh Staumont to begin the eighth and, after retiring the Guardians in order that inning, coming out for the ninth to safeguard the two-run lead the Royals forged in the eighth on Bobby Witt Jr.’s first big league hit (an RBI double) and Andrew Benintendi’s first hit of the season (a run-scoring single).

The assignment forced Barlow to face five more batters; fortunately, he struck out Myles Straw with runners on first and third to send the Royals home winners.

But should Matheny have asked him to go two innings? Yes, and here’s why. Unlike some closers, Barlow isn’t a stranger to such work—13 of his 71 appearances last season lasted more than one inning. He’d had an easy, comfortable eighth. Staumont, Matheny’s likely choice to close when Barlow isn’t available, had already thrown an inning and was out of the game. And today, the day after he pitched two frames, is an off day for the club, meaning he’ll be sufficiently rested for Saturday’s game.

Risky? Maybe. But not so much so that Matheny couldn’t afford to send his closer back out to close a game.

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The Royals are off today but, after playing Cleveland Saturday afternoon beginning at 3:10 p.m. CDT, finish their four-game series against the Guardians with 1:10 p.m. CDT contests Sunday and Monday.

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