Royals left-hander Bruce Chen intends to throw another bullpen session this afternoon and test the lingering tightness in his lower back.
Thanks to a bulging disk, which has pressed against a nerve and sent pain shooting down his left leg, he has not pitched since April 24, and almost certainly won’t pitch again until June. Chen intends to join the team this weekend in Anaheim, but the team has yet to clear him to begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment.
As Chen resides in limbo, his replacement has begun to soar.
Left-hander Danny Duffy carried a bid for a perfect game into the seventh inning in his last start. At 25, Duffy is considered a potential cornerstone in the rotation.
Which, of course, creates the question of Chen’s role upon his return. For his own part, Chen, who is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA, insisted he would not worry about his usage until he feels capable of helping the team in games.
“The most important thing right now is to get healthy,” Chen said. “It doesn’t do any good for me to start thinking ahead about what’s going on. Obviously, they haven’t said anything to me. But, whatever. I try to do everything I can to help this team win.
“If that’s the case (they want me to move to the bullpen), then we’ll think about that. But I just want to get healthy. If I don’t get healthy, I can’t help the team.”
Chen first felt discomfort in his back on March 30, he said. He woke up with discomfort. But he pitched through the pain because he felt the Royals needed him, and he felt he could still contribute.
“The team has always known that I have helped the team in numerous ways, like last year,” Chen said. “And then this year, they said ‘Hey, we need to start.’ And then the fact that I pitched while I was still hurt those four times, because we didn’t have anybody, I did it for the team. Until somebody was able to step in.”
Duffy has filled the void. In his three starts, he has allowed only two runs in 17 innings. He carried a bid for a perfect game into the seventh inning of his last appearance.
It appears that the spot is Duffy’s to lose.
But that debate won’t ensue until Chen is healthy. He is not ready yet.
“I have to listen to the training staff,” he said. “They’re telling me the most important thing is to calm that nerve down. We go little by little.”
Manager Ned Yost expects second baseman Omar Infante, who has disk inflammation in his lower back, to accompany the team to the West Coast this weekend. But he could not say for sure. Infante may require a day or two on a rehab assignment.
Yost indicated Infante would need no more than six to eight at-bats before rejoining the club.
Infante is eligible to return from the disabled list on Thursday. The team starts a three-game series in Anaheim on Friday.
He took some swings on the field before Monday’s game against the White Sox but is still unable to field ground balls at full strength.
“It’s not really the rotation that bothers him,” Yost said. “It’s the bending over where he still feels it a little bit, fielding ground balls.”
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