STARTERS AND RELIEVERS: Five in the KC Royals rotation, eight in the bullpen
Their pitching staff poses the most difficult roster decisions for the Royals, but that's what happens when a club's hurlers were, with few notable exceptions. among the majors' worst last season.
The rotation locks belong to Brady Singer, Zack Greinke, and Jordan Lyles. Never were there questions about Singer and Greinke (except, of course, which of the two will start Opening Day), and Lyles' decent spring (13 strikeouts and a 3.52 ERA in five games and 15.1 innings), solidified the claim to a spot in the rota his two-year contract rendered all but certain.
Rounding out the club's starting five will be Brad Keller and Daniel Lynch; the former is a bit of a surprise, the latter a bit of a risk.
The Royals banished Keller to the bullpen late last season and there wasn't much reason to believe he'd pitch his way back to the rotation when spring camp opened last month. But a brand new curveball, something missing from Keller's big league arsenal until now, some encouraging Cactus League outings, and the lack of other viable alternatives have bolstered his rotation credentials.
Lynch hasn't overwhelmed many hitters this spring; in fact, he's surrendered seven earned runs in 13.1 innings. Take away the three earned runs he gave Colorado Saturday, though, and his 4.73 ERA suddenly becomes a more palatable 3.60. And the club's belief in him, together with a dearth of ready starters, mean he'll take up the tail end of the rotation.
The bullpen also has its share of locks. Scott Barlow, set up by Aroldis Chapman and Josh Staumont, will close. Notwithstanding the control issues he'll probably always have (5.02 career BB/9), Amir Garrett's slider, his fierce competitiveness and popularity with teammates, and his 0.00 ERA this spring give Matt Quatraro reason to give him plenty of middle-to-late inning work. Although he's walked eight in six innings this spring, Dylan Coleman's 5-2, 2.78 performance in his first full year with the Royals last season secures his Opening Day seat in The K's bullpen.
That leaves three spots for Quatraro to fill. Because they can start or relieve, count on Carlos Hernández landing one and Kris Bubic the other. And the final relief spot? They may be tempted to let lefty Richard Lovelady continue his work back from last year's Tommy John Surgery at Omaha, but the club's medical staff is in Kansas City; more importantly, he's proving this spring that he's probably ready to return to the majors—in seven innings, he's struck out seven, walked no one, and given up not a single run.
(Expect Taylor Clarke and Ryan Yarbrough to join the roster at the first significant sign of pitching trouble).