KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Young persuaded Ned Yost to let him go one more inning Friday night. But maintaining a spot in the Royals’ rotation may not be as easy, despite Young’s early-season dominance.
After Kansas City’s 5-0 win over St. Louis at Kauffman Stadium — a win highlighted by two Kendrys Morales home runs and one that secured baseball’s best record at 27-14 — Yost brushed aside any talk of Young’s permanent spot in the Royals’ rotation.
"I’m not even going there right now," Yost said. "Nice try, though."
Young turned in another fine performance Friday, twirling six shutout innings and lowering his ERA to 0.78 overall and 0.40 in the four games he’s started. Royals starting pitchers have now thrown 26 consecutive scoreless innings.
But with the impending return of Jason Vargas to the rotation, the staff will become overcrowded and Young could be headed back to the bullpen, where he began the season.
Young started 2015 as the Royals’ main long reliever, a 10-year veteran of starting pitching occupying the bullpen to provide depth and length to Kansas City. But then Edinson Volquez served a suspension and Young gave the Royals five no-hit innings. Then Vargas strained his left flexor and Young started three more Kansas City victories.
He stretched out to a season-high 106 pitches Friday night, the most for Young in 10 months. But he almost didn’t get the chance to.
Yost was ready to yank Young after the fifth inning, with the right-hander’s pitch count at 94. Three right-handed-hitting batters were due up for St. Louis and Young felt like he could handle them.
"He said, ‘If you don’t like what you see, then you guys make a decision, but I got plenty left in my tank to get us through the sixth inning,’" Yost said. "When I heard that, we got a five-run lead, yeah, we’ll send him back out on a short leash. And darn, he got us through the sixth."
Young retired Jhonny Peralta, Randal Grichuk and Yadier Molina in order, his only perfect inning of the night.
"There are going to be nights where I’m tired at 75-80 pitches and nights where I feel good at 100-plus," Young said. "I felt good and he let me go back out."
As a starter, Young has given up 13 hits in 22 2/3 innings. He’s walked seven and struck out 16. Most important, he’s surrendered just two runs, one of them unearned.
"Right now, as a starter, perfect," shortstop Alcides Escobar said.
"He’s been lights-out for us," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "He’s been a great add-on to our rotation, as far as consistency, every fifth day, he goes out there and we know what we’re getting from him. As an offense, it really relaxes you knowing your guy is going to go out there and fire strikes."
Young had issues with his command early, though, allowing a Cardinal to reach second in each of the first three innings and not retiring more than four straight hitters until his final inning. Young wriggled out of each jam, but Morales provided him with enough support even if the Cardinals had punctured the scoreboard.
Morales turned on two offerings from Lance Lynn, booming both balls deep into right field, more than 400 feet away from home plate. Morales now has six home runs on the season and leads the American League in RBIs.
"He’s been a big, big contributor in a huge way," Yost said. "Great numbers. We knew that he had a lot of pop and tonight was evidence of it."
Morales’ two home runs gave the Royals a new trick in their bag, one they didn’t possess a season ago — power. Morales became the first Royal to hit two home runs in a game since Erik Kratz did last season, when Kansas City finished last in baseball in home runs.
"We can beat you in a lot of ways," Yost said. "We can beat you defensively. We can beat you with our pitching. We can manufacture runs. We can beat you with our speed. And now, we can beat you with some power."
Yost admitted to not knowing the Royals’ record, and denied adding significance to having baseball’s best mark in the middle of May. Hosmer, though, appreciates the Royals’ hot start.
"I’m not going to say it doesn’t mean anything," Hosmer said. "It just shows a credit to us being ready to go this year. I think the guys are hungry after last year, but there’s still a long way to go. We realize that."