(Editor's Note: Well after this story about KC Royals pitcher Jake Brentz was published, MLB.com Royals beat writer Anne Rogers reported that he's suffered another injury and "is expected" to miss the rest of this season).
Jake Brentz first caught my attention during the pandemic. It had been just a few months since the KC Royals signed him to a minor league free agent deal, and only a few days after they'd assigned him to their 60-man Alternate Training Site where, together with other highly-regarded prospects, he worked the rest of the summer.
I called him a "work in progress" at that time, and with good reason. Given up on and released by the Pittsburgh organization the previous August when he was struggling with a 5.55 ERA at Triple-A Indianapolis. He'd never posted an ERA less than 4.00 in seven minor league seasons and his control was more than suspect.
But as they so often do when it comes to pitching, the Royals saw something in Brentz they believed they could fix and sent him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he squeezed in five appearances and struck out five in 5.1 innings before the season ended.
What he did at the ATS isn't known (like other clubs, Kansas City said little about what went on in that venue), but it couldn't have been a bad summer for the lefthanded reliever because he spent the entire 2021 season with the Royals, and made the most of his big league debut season. Manager Mike Matheny used him 72 times, a healthy workload for a rookie; he went 5-2 with a 3.66 ERA and struck out 76 in 64 innings (10.69 K/9). But 37 walks proved control remained an issue.
That 2021 effort secured a prominent spot for Brentz in KC's 2022 bullpen. Suddenly gone, however, was the excellence of his rookie campaign — in just 5.1 innings to begin the season, opponents battered him for 14 earned runs (23.68 ERA) and worked hi for 10 walks, and a right left flexor strain forced him onto the Injured List before April ended. After he pitched twice on a June Double-A rehab assignment, the Royals shut him down for the season; Tommy John Surgery soon followed.
How is KC Royals reliever Jake Brentz doing this season?
In a roster move no one found surprising with the Royals needing space on their 40-man roster for Rule 5 purposes, the club DFA'd Brentz last November. But they re-signed him in March and returned him to the IL when the season began.
Now, he's back in action. He began a minor league rehab assignment earlier this month with two scoreless relief appearances in the Arizona Complex League, then moved up to Double-A where Tuesday he pitched an inning against Tulsa. Although he surrendered a run and two walks, he struck out two. His rehab line so far? In 2.2 innings, he's yielded an earned run but only one hit, and has five strikeouts against three walks.
To be sure, it's a small sample size, perhaps too small from which to glean anything of great import. And a big league pitcher, even one rehabilitating from a serious injury and corrective surgery, should fan a lot of rookie-level and Double-A hitters. And while a truer test of Brentz's progress will come in Triple-A if the Royals give him a stop there before bringing him back to Kansas City, those five strikeouts and the fact he's facing game competition again are definitely encouraging.
It's too soon to tell whether his control will improve or whether the Royals will make him one of their September call-ups. The good news, though, is that he's pitching again.