KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Royals general manager Dayton Moore went searching for innings eaters to bolster his rotation last winter.
What he found were the poster boys for that term.
Right-handers James Shields and Ervin Santana so far have been everything they were advertised to be, and perhaps more.
Shields and Santana have gobbled up innings like Pac-Men, and are becoming statistical phenomenons this season: They are the only duo in all of baseball who have gone at least six innings in every start this season.
In fact, only one other pitcher in all of baseball – Patrick Corbin of Arizona – comes close to matching the streaks of Shields and Santana. But Corbin’s streak of 12 straight games of six innings or more ended Wednesday night against the Dodgers.
Shields has gone at least six innings in all 14 starts. Santana, who pitches tonight at Tampa Bay, has gone at least six innings in all 12 starts. He would be going for 14 straight if not for the famous “snow out” at Kauffman Stadium when he had a 1-0 lead through four innings when the game was called.
“I didn’t really know they had those streaks going,” pitching coach Dave Eiland says. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I guess knowing how good they are, I’d be more surprised if they hadn’t gone six innings a few times. This is who they are.”
And it is who they have been most of their careers.
Shields actually is on a remarkable roll: He has pitched at least six innings in 28 straight games (the record is Justin Verlander’s 63). Santana has a stretch of 21 of his last 22 starts of going six innings or more.
Moore certainly found his workhorses.
“It’s certainly what we had hoped for when we acquired them,” Moore says. “We wanted a significant upgrade to our rotation and we definitely have realized that.
“We wanted guys who have that bulldog mentality that they don’t want to come out of games. That has been a big boost for our bullpen. The bullpen got overworked quite a bit last year and you could see signs of it tiring down the stretch. Hopefully, that won’t happen this season. The bullpen should be a lot fresher come August and September.”
Predictably, neither Shields nor Santana considers their feats all that special.
“It’s my job,” Shields says. “Honestly, I don’t think about six innings. I think about complete games.”
Adds Santana, “It’s all about complete games and wins. That’s all.”
But you can bet Eiland thinks it’s a big deal.
“Not once has either of those guys ever asked to come out,” Eiland says. “They have the mentality that they are out there to throw complete games. You won’t see either one of them looking over the shoulder to the bullpen.
“It is really what we expected of them when we got them. That was their history. They are guys who throw a lot of innings and expect to. It’s a pleasure to watch them and coach them.”
What is their secret to survival in games?
“Really, it all starts with attacking the zone,” Eiland says. “They come at you and don’t waste a lot of pitches. They don’t walk guys, and that really keeps the pitch counts down and allows them to go deep into games.
“They’re just strike throwers. They don’t get down, either, when they give up some runs or give up a homer. When you are around the plate as much as they are, you are going to give up homers and you are going to give up hits. The home runs haven’t hurt because a lot of them are solo homers.”
Shields has given up eight homers – three solo and four with a man on. Ten of the 14 homers Santana has allowed have been solo shots.
“That’s the cost of business when you are around the plate,” Eiland says.
Going deep into games has benefited the Royals in other ways other than saving the bullpen.
“What it does is it keeps you in games,” Eiland says. “They may have struggles early in games, but they always find a way to get people out eventually. That’s what they are very good at. They keep working and they keep searching for something to get you out. They never quit or stop.
“They may not have their best stuff in games, but they keep fighting you and finding ways to win. Even the great pitchers have games where they don’t have their best stuff, but they find a way to get the job done and keep their team in the game.”
And that mentality is much appreciated by the offense.
“Those guys keep us in games long enough that it gives our offense a chance to come back,” designated hitter Billy Butler says. “That’s a great feeling.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.