Who's Next?: 3 KC Royals spot-starting options after Bowlan's dud

The righty made his 2024 debut with negative results. What other options does Kansas City have?
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As the KC Royals promoted Jonathan Bowlan to face the Toronto Blue Jays, you eagerly awaited his moment on the mound. His strong performance at Triple-A Omaha set the stage for his fitting 2024 MLB debut. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned at all.

The KC Royals need a new starting solution for Sunday's series finale.

Bowlan struggled in his debut, giving up four runs in just 2⅔ innings of work. Despite the challenges, there's hope that he will rebound in his upcoming start. There were positive takeaways from Bowlan's start, but being on the road against a good Blue Jays lineup made his task a tough one.

“I need to execute better,” Bowlan said to MLB.com's Anne Rogers following the game. “Whenever you get behind in the count, it definitely makes the situation a lot harder. I’ll figure that out and fix that. At the end of the day, all I can do is grow from it. We’ll talk and learn as much as I can, with it being my first one up here.”

After his tough debut, Kansas City decided to option Bowlan back to Omaha. The move saw reliever Colin Selby join the bullpen, but he isn't going to start in Alec Marsh's place on Sunday. The Royals cannot just recall Bowlan for another start, either. After a pitcher is sent to the minors, the team must wait 15 days before they can bring that player back. A solution for Sunday's starting pitcher remains to be found by the Royals.

“That's a possibility to reset the rotation a little depending on how the next couple of days go," Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. "We have to consider all the options we have available, whether it’s guys we have currently here or guys in Triple-A.”

Knowing that all options are on the table, let's take a look at three pitchers who could start for the Royals Sunday against the Rangers.

Note: this assumes that veteran Jordan Lyles is still on the inactive list. He is unavailable due to personal reasons and there is no timetable for his return. It is improper to speculate on why he's unavailable or when he will play again.

1. Matt Sauer

KC Royals players Freddy Fermin, Matt Sauer
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The Royals' best option is one that doesn't require a roster move but leaves a similar starting ceiling to Bowlan. Sauer came up through the New York Yankees system as a starter, with 80 minor-league starts in 83 total appearances. When Kansas City selected him in the Rule 5 draft, the best way to protect him was by limiting him to a bullpen role, and that is how Quatraro deploys Sauer.

Necessity could push Sauer into Sunday's start, though. He hasn't pitched since April 29, pitching two innings against the Blue Jays. That is an ample amount of rest if Quatraro wants to push Sauer for four-plus innings. Sauer's appeal primarily comes from already being on the MLB roster so that no corresponding move would be required. Plus, this could clarify Sauer's future role as a low-innings pitcher or reliable bulk bullpen pitcher.

2. Daniel Lynch IV

KC Royals pitcher Daniel Lynch IV
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There are two reasons Royals fans haven't seen Lynch pitch at the major-league level this season. First, the offseason additions pushed the 2018 first-round pick down to Triple-A to start this season. However, Lynch has not been particularly effective for the Storm Chasers in 2024. He leads the Omaha starters with six starts but with an ugly 5.86 ERA across 27⅔ innings. While Lynch has the MLB experience a team desires in a spot starter, he is not a guaranteed solution for Sunday.

Additionally, weather disruptions have thrown Omaha's pitching rotation into chaos. Five consecutive postponed games from April 26–30 disrupted the normal rhythm, leading to Lynch starting the first game of a doubleheader on May 1. The days of rest aren't optimal, but Lynch only pitched four innings in that start. If the team is okay with him starting on Sunday with a limited number of pitches, that could be a viable option. Lynch would have to deliver a strong performance, something he has yet to achieve in Omaha this season.

3. Zach Davies

Current KC Royals pitcher Zach Davies during his Arizona Diamondbacks playing time.
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If Kansas City wants an expendable starter for Sunday and is willing to ignore the rest issues in Omaha, Davies is their guy. With Lyles' status, the Royals have a 40-man roster spot to play with. Tyler Duffey currently occupies that flexible spot, but the Royals designating him for assignment and pivoting to Davies would not be surprising. Duffey isn't a bullpen anchor and could likely be re-signed to a minor-league deal.

Davies started the second game of that May 1 doubleheader, pitching five innings of shutout ball. He doesn't strike out many batters, but he doesn't walk many either. The righty has extensive starting experience at the MLB level, starting 45 games across the past two seasons. He failed to latch on with the Washington Nationals this spring and found a Triple-A home in Omaha. If Kansas City feels comfortable trying to pass Davies through waivers, then they should call him up.

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