Perhaps no one was happier to ring in the new year than Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland.
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Since the end of the 2012 season, hes watched the Royals rebuild their starting rotation, and he has formed his opinion.
It is, Eiland said, a wonderful thing.
To recap: The Royals traded for Angels starter Ervin Santana on Oct. 31, re-signed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie in November and then traded for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis last month.
While the city was abuzz over the deal with Tampa Bay and there was a lot of talk about Santana, Eiland was just as happy about the pitcher the Royals kept.
Lets not discount Jeremy Guthrie, Eiland said by phone. He came over there and after his first two starts, he pitched as well as anyone in baseball. This is a guy who prior to last year when he was in Baltimore, he was a 200-inning guy. Very durable.
Even on nights he doesnt have his good stuff, hes able to navigate through at least five innings, if not six innings. If nothing else, he gives you innings to save the bullpen. But hes a guy that always keeps you in the game, and you know what youre going to get when you run him out there.
This is a guy who pitched extremely well for us after we acquired him. Hes a guy who is very hungry and wants to succeed.
Guthrie, who turns 34 in April, signed a three-year, $25 million contract. Overall, he was 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA after being acquired in an August trade with the Rockies.
His last dozen starts were sensational: 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Perhaps the best statistic of all over that stretch: The Royals were 10-2.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Guthrie, who had been 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA in Colorado. Eiland believed in Guthrie after facing him for years as an AL East opponent. While Guthrie was with the Orioles, Eiland worked for the Rays in 2011 after serving as the Yankees pitching coach for three seasons.
There were adjustments that made a big difference and allowed him to command the ball down in the zone better, Eiland said. When he missed, he missed down. He was a guy I saw quite a bit of in those three years. You saw the stuff was there, there was some power stuff, there were some good breaking balls, but he was a guy who always pitched up in the zone a little bit. Once we got him, I had a really good read on him, and I suggested a couple of minor adjustments in his delivery, and he bought into it after those first two games and off he went.
He can elevate on occasion when he wants to, to change eye level. But it also made his breaking ball better.
Guthrie wasnt the only member of the rebuilt rotation to finish 2012 with a flourish.
Santanas overall numbers: 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA in 178 innings. But before struggling in his final game of the year (a loss to the Rangers), Santana had a stretch of 10 games where he was 5-2 with a 3.08 ERA, holding opponents to a .179 average.
Shields was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA last season. In his final 12 games, he was 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and two shutouts while holding opponents to a .166 batting average. Seven of those starts were against teams that made the playoffs.
While Davis was working out of the bullpen for the Rays last year, he had a 1.99 ERA after Aug. 1 in 20 games, including 12 against teams that made the playoffs.
Eiland knows Shields and Davis well, having spent a year as a special assistant to Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
(Shields is) a great competitor, a great leader, Eiland said. Brings a lot to the team on the field. But off the field, in the clubhouse, in the dugout on the days he isnt pitching, hes one of those guys who makes everybody better. He has a way of making everyone else elevate their game and their level of play. He holds people accountable. Hes a good teammate and a leader.
Wade Davis is a little more quiet, but very professional, a hard worker. He has a tremendous power arm, great stuff. He pitched a year in the bullpen last year, but hes had success as a starter in the major leagues and hasnt even reached his full potential yet. Hes still a young man at 27 years old. Weve acquired two big, physical starting pitchers that are durable and very reliable. Its a very good thing, obviously.
Eiland has spent much of the offseason chatting with the new guys and watching video of them. Hes also talked with Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, two holdovers from last years rotation.
They are expected to battle for the last spot in the rotation.
The old saying, You can never have enough pitching, especially starting pitching, and thats true, Eiland said. Youve got to have depth. I dont like to call it the No. 5 spot. I just say that one spot is left. There is going to be competition for it, and competition usually brings out the best in people, especially professional athletes.
Hopefully, we have a very hard decision to make toward the end of spring training, because that means everyone is throwing the ball well.
While Eiland has nothing against the holidays, hes clearly champing at the bit to turn the calendar to February.
Santana has pitched in the postseason, as have Shields and Davis, Eiland said. Were getting experience, were getting durability, were getting talent. You throw that in the mix with our bullpen, and our bullpen is already good. A good starting rotation makes a bullpen even better. Like I said, its something were all looking forward to getting this thing going.
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff