SURPRIRSE, Ariz. (AP) The candidates to fill the final two spots in the Kansas City Royals’ starting rotation vary in just about every way imaginable, from size to experience.
Especially in size.
There’s 165-pound left-hander Everett Teaford, who was a big part of the bullpen during his debut last season. Right-hander Felipe Paulino, all 270 pounds of him, is beginning his fifth big league campaign. And 22-year-old left-hander Mike Montgomery, a lanky 6-foot-5 hotshot prospect, has never pitched an inning in the majors.
They’re joined by Aaron Crow, who made the All-Star game as a reliever last season, and left-hander Danny Duffy, who went 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA over 20 starts last season at the age of 20.
“Whatever is going to help the team out and win more games, I’ll gladly accept any role that they give me,” said Crow, a former first-round draft pick, delivering the company line.
Just how tough is competition for those last two jobs?
Right-handers Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazzaro were in the mix last season. Both are still around, but they’re after-thoughts in one of the Royals’ most compelling position battles. Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez are the only locks for the starting rotation, which means the final two jobs will be decided in the next five weeks.
“I feel comfortable throwing seven or eight innings at a time,” said Crow, who went just 9-10 with a 5.73 ERA in 29 minor league starts.
“Either way I think I’m going to have a good year,” he said. “If you would have told me this time last year I was going to be in the big leagues, let alone make the All-Star team, I would have been shocked. It’s a nice individual accomplishment, but at the end of the day winning games and being on a winning team is going to be a lot more fun than being on an All-Star team.”
Crow did not allow a run his first 13 games last year, but he wore down in August, when he was 0-2 with an 8.53 ERA. He pitched only 11 innings the final two months of the season.
“I think it was the transition of being a reliever and throwing four or five times a week as opposed to just once every five days,” Crow said. “It was a learning curve. There were times I threw too many pitches in the bullpen and go throw one inning in a game. Then the next day, my arm would be too tired or too sore to throw. It’s something I have to work on if I’m going to be a reliever again.”
Along with Crow, Paulino remains one of the leading candidates to earn one of the jobs.
He went 4-6 with a 4.62 ERA in 20 starts after the Royals acquired him from Colorado last season, finally harnessing his electric fastball. Paulino is just 10-31 with a 5.28 ERA in 86 games in the big leagues, but he believes he experienced a breakthrough in Kansas City.
“I’m really happy with what I did last year,” Paulino said. “It proved what I can do.”
Luis Mendoza figures to be a wild-card in the rotation battle. He was 4-9 with an 8.43 ERA in 36 big league games before ironing out some mechanical issues at Triple-A Omaha. He was one of the Pacific Coast League’s top pitchers before a September call-up, when he went 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Mendoza’s “angle on his fastball was very flat” early in the season, something he was able to figure out at Omaha.
“It was a pretty dramatic improvement, a good strong downhill action on his fastball, a very good heavy, hard two-seamer, and his command improved,” Yost said. “I think his transformation has been taking place the last year and a half.”
Montgomery is considered the Royals’ top pitching prospect and nearly made the team last season. But he went just 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA in Omaha, leading some to believe that he may start the year in the minors with a chance of getting called up later.
Teaford knows what getting shuttled back and forth to Omaha feels like.
He was optioned three times last season, but showed promise when given the chance in Kansas City. He made 23 relief appearances before going 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA in three starts.
“I’m more of a pitch-to-contact guy, which might be better in a starting role, but really I’m fine with whatever,” Teaford said. “Whether it’s in relief, whether it’s facing a lefty, whether it’s long relief or starting, I just want to help the team.
“Hopefully, I’ll be in Kansas City and never have to drive on I-29 again like last summer.”