During his past three outings, Royals pitcher Kris Medlen competed without the ability to drive strikes into the bottom half of the strike zone. He survived the first two games, but in the third, the Cleveland Indians rocked him for six runs and booted him from the game in the fourth inning, opening manager Ned Yost to questions about the fourth member of his postseason rotation.
Yost has declined all queries about the postseason until after the season ends Sunday. With the way the rotation is currently lined up, with Johnny Cueto set to pitch against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in Minneapolis, it looks likely that Yordano Ventura will start game one of the American League Division Series. Otherwise, Cueto would have to pitch on short rest.
Yost could skip Cueto on Sunday and keep him on track for the first game of the series. Either way, the first three starters are expected to be Ventura, Cueto and Edinson Volquez, in some order. The fourth starter is still up for debate, if the team even uses a fourth starter. The two candidates are Medlen (4-2, 4.97 ERA as a starter) and Chris Young (8-6, 3.30 ERA as a starter).
Young rejoined the club Wednesday afternoon. He threw a bullpen session to prepare for his start Friday. After tossing five hitless innings Sunday against the Detroit Tigers, Young left the club to be with his family in Texas after the death of his father.
With his performance in Thursday’s series finale against the Chicago White Sox, Medlen could improve his chances for a playoff start. The Royals insist his lack of command stems from his return from his second Tommy John surgery.
“That’s the last thing that comes,” pitching coach Dave Eiland. “He’s just fighting himself a little, because he’s trying to be so perfect. A lot of times, when you try to be that way, it goes the other way for you. Instead of just trusting your delivery and seeing the spot you want to go and throwing it, and trusting that it’s going to go there.”
Eiland compared Medlen’s current funk with ones Luke Hochevar, another Tommy John survivor, has undergone this season. The key is simplicity, Eiland explained.
“His delivery is fine,” Eiland said. “He gets a little off, here and there, but who doesn’t? It’s just trusting it. It’s just trusting it, and not worrying so much where everything is at. Just think about executing a pitch.”