On Sunday afternoon, as reliever Tim Collins flopped in yet another appearance, Royals manager Ned Yost sensed something was amiss. The velocity on Collins’ fastball had dipped. His control of his offspeed pitches was erratic.
"I knew something wasn’t right with Timmy," Yost said on Monday afternoon, adding "It just didn’t look right."
Yost received confirmation of his suspicion after the game. Collins admitted to soreness and discomfort in his left arm. The team diagnosed a flexor strain near his elbow. An MRI revealed no structural damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, but evidence of inflammation around the joint.
The Royals placed Collins, and fellow lefty Francisley Bueno, on the 15-day disabled list on Monday. Bueno sustained a bone bruise and sprain on his left pinky on Sunday, an injury that would shut him down for about a week. "We didn’t have time to wait five days, six days," Yost said.
In the wake of the injuries, the team executed a series of maneuvers. They recalled left-hander Donnie Joseph and right-hander Michael Mariot. The team also flew in reliever Louis Coleman, who was nursing a bruised right middle finger.
Coleman is eligible to return from the disabled list on Tuesday. He was supposed to throw a bullpen session on Monday. If he completed that without issue, the team could activate him. He pitched an inning in a simulated game on Saturday.
"It’s getting more to where I don’t even feel it, or worry about it," Coleman said. "Day-to-day things around the house are normal. Everything I do is completely normal. It’s just the unique thing of throwing a baseball is the only thing that’s bothering me. And for the most part, that’s gone."
Coleman would provide some necessary experience for this bullpen. As now constituted, the relief corps features three relievers – Joseph, Mariot and recent addition Aaron Brooks – with a combined 5 2/3 big-league innings. All those frames belong to Joseph, who made six scoreless appearances in 2013.
Joseph lost out to Bueno in the team’s bullpen competition this spring. His issue is an inability to throw strikes. In his minor-league career, he has walked 4.4 batters per nine. His slider can be cruel. But the pitch is useless, Yost explained, if he cannot locate his fastball.
"He’s what you call one of those ‘Top Step Guys,’ where you’re always standing on the top step, wondering," Yost said. "But he always finds a way to get out of it."
For Yost, the most infuriating quality in a reliever is not throwing strikes. Collins committed this sin twice already this season. Yost insisted he possessed confidence in Joseph. Yet there is little he can tell him to reinforce the importance of command.
"What am I supposed to say?" Yost said. "Don’t throw balls?"
Maybe that would work, a reporter suggested.
"It doesn’t work."
To hear Joseph tell it, though, Yost’s message was just that.
"That’s always a thing with me," Joseph said. "That’s what Ned was telling me, ‘Just continue to pound the strike zone, and work on your command.’ That’s just something I’ve got to work on each and every time I go out there."