With three weeks to go before the season begins, the Kansas City Royals have started to align their pitching staff in preparation for when games begin to count. Manager Ned Yost made multiple announcements to members of the media on Saturday, including MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel, about the team’s pitching plans including word that James Shields will get the ball on Opening Day.
Jason Vargas will reportedly take the hill next and Jeremy Guthrie will start the Royals’ home opener, which will actually be their fourth game of the year. Bruce Chen will also figure into the team’s rotation plans, but it is unclear where exactly he’ll line up (either 3rd or 5th).
Kansas City opens their season on March 31st at the Detroit Tigers. Their home opener is April 4th versus the Chicago White Sox.
That Shields will take the ball in the team’s season opener is hardly a surprise. He held the same honor a year ago, but that ultimately is part of the reason why the team paid such a steep price to acquire him from the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields was brought in to lead this staff and he’ll do so again this year, his last before potentially reaching free agency.
Making a league leading 34 starts last season, Shields posted a 13-9 mark with a 3.15 ERA and 1.238 WHIP across 228.2 IP. Most of his numbers were in line with his career averages and it was the fourth season in a row that he’d topped 200 innings. Another similar campaign in 2014 and Shields could be one of the most desirable arms available in next winter’s free agent class (particularly if the other options – Boston’s Jon Lester and Cleveland’s Justin Masterson – continue to inch closer to contract extensions with their current clubs).
Vargas was signed this past winter by the Royals to a four year, $32 Million deal and will slide into the #2 spot in the rotation as expected. Guthrie is arguably the team’s #3 starter, but holding him back a start to take the home opener was in part a reward for his own strong 2013 season, according to Yost. Guthrie pitched a career high 211.2 IP last year, with a 4.04 ERA and 1.394 WHIP while winning 15 games.
Yost also noted that Wade Davis would begin the season in the bullpen rather than continue competing for a spot in the starting rotation. Davis will not, however, be used in a swingman type role but rather will figure into Yost’s plans for the game’s late innings. The decision, at least in part, appears to be related to the team’s loss of Luke Hochevar for the coming season.
“Davis is a dominant factor down there for us, and once we lost Hoch, it became apparent to me that his presence was sorely needed out there,” Yost said. “He had been pitching as well or better than any of the candidates for that rotation spot, but as soon as Hoch went down, we all knew Wade could be a good Major League starter … but we felt Wade in the back end of our ‘pen is going to be more productive for us as a team.”
Entering camp it appeared as though both Davis and Hochevar would compete for the last spot in the team’s rotation, but Yost’s comments suggest that he’d always wanted at least one of them out in the bullpen. Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy appear to be the lone candidates remaining for that role, with the other likely heading down to Triple-A to begin the season.