Opinion

Ask Andy: Why isn’t John Lamb pitching for the Royals?

Royals pitcher John Lamb
Royals pitcher John Lamb Star file photo

The Royals are skidding into July, with four losses in a row. They still have 10 games at Kauffman Stadium before the All-Star break. Let’s tackle some questions facing the club.

To quote Clint Eastwood and Snoop Pearson: Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. John Lamb has pitched plenty well enough to earn a call-up. He’s 8-1 with a 2.71 ERA. His fastball has been clocked at 95 mph. His changeup is still a weapon. He’s listened to instructions from the developmental staff and begun to incorporate a slider. He’s done everything a prospect should do in order to get a chance.

But chances are hard to find for a first-place team. Lamb was passed over for a spot start last month, in part, because Yohan Pino possessed big-league experience. Lamb, of course, does not. He wouldn’t get big-league experience until he gets an opportunity, but his novice status does hamper his case. It’s a Catch-22, but at least that explains why Pino got the call over Lamb. Pino had pitched admirably for the big-league club earlier in the year. Simple as that.

So why Joe Blanton over Lamb? Blanton had two good starts before getting waxed in Houston. He will get another chance on Saturday against the Twins. This news caused fans to howl for Lamb’s ascension to the big-league rotation. But the composition of the pitching staff does not aid Lamb’s cause.

At this point, the Royals have one pitcher on their entire staff with minor-league options who could conceivably be sent down. That’s Brandon Finnegan. Everyone else is either indispensable or out of options. Finnegan will depart the club, most likely, when either Yordano Ventura or Jason Vargas returns from the disabled list.

That’s an important thing to remember. The Royals have two pitchers working their way back to the staff, and only one flexible spot. They will face a roster crunch when the second starter is ready, as they’ll have to sift through cutting ties with pitchers like Blanton or maybe Jason Frasor.

If the team adds John Lamb to the rotation right now, they would force the roster crunch ahead of time. Now imagine the nightmare scenario, which is always possible with a rookie pitcher: Lamb takes the place of Blanton, who is designated for assignment. Lamb struggles. Another club claims Blanton. Now the club has depleted its depth, losing Blanton, all for naught.

It’s not necessarily what would happen if the team inserted Lamb into the rotation. But they would certainly have to part ways with a pitcher. And at this stage in the season, depth is so critical.

So does John Lamb deserve a shot? Of course. But this game isn’t always a meritocracy.

These are the sort of questions you get after you face the Astros, who have a few talented young arms in their rotation.

First: Let’s quibble with the phrasing. The Royals went to the World Series last year. Even after a four-game losing streak, they still lead the American League Central by 3½ games. Nothing is "holding them back," necessarily.

Second: Let’s remember that this conversation stopped in 2014, because Kansas City developed Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. Both were very good starting pitchers in 2014. Both have regressed in the first half of 2015. This is not unusual. If each pitcher bounces back in the second half, the Royals will employ a pair of home-grown starters with high ceilings.

Third: Let’s consider what remains in the farm system. The stories on pitchers like Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Christian Binford have not been written.

Under general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals have not had the greatest amount of success developing starters. We tackled this topic in depth last spring. The conclusion was boring, but fair: It’s really hard to develop starting pitching. Every club struggles with it.

No. There should not.

Trading Alex Gordon would devastate the Royals clubhouse, rob the defense of one of its cornerstone and depress the fanbase. So unless you’re getting a superstar-type talent in return, it’s short-sighted and reduces the team’s chances to win in 2015. Which, you know, is sort of the point of the whole enterprise.

If Gordon departs in free agency, as many in the industry believe he will, the Royals would receive a compensatory first-round draft pick. This is not the worst thing in the world.

Here is what Ned Yost had to say earlier this week about the prospect of mixing Jarrod Dyson into the lineup right now:

"I wish I could find ways to get him in there a little more," Yost said. "But it’s hard when you’re trying to get guys going, especially guys who can be an impact bat. I think the more you sit them, the longer it takes to get them going."

Yost said he was encouraged by some of Rios’ at-bats against the Athletics and the Astros. But then, there is this. Rios is hitting .217/.243/.264. This is replacement-level hitting and below. At some point, a club with championship aspirations must find an alternative.

That may be a platoon with Dyson. That may be a trade before the deadline. The Royals would never set a public deadline on when to give up on Rios. But if the offense continues to slumber, they will be forced to upgrade in the places they can. There is little to be done at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field and designated hitter.

That leaves second base and right field.

I try not to deviate from Coors Light, but I do enjoy a Greyhound in the summer. A perfect summer drink; I recommend two limes.

I try to avoid Subway in the summer. But on a cold winter’s night, when I feel like debasing myself, I’ll order the foot-long meatball marinara.

I tried contacts when I was a teenager. I couldn’t get them in my eyes. My fingers are too large.

1. "Peripheral Vision" by Turnover. This one will be tough to dethrone. So good. Recommended track: “Cutting My Fingers Off.”

2. "The Story So Far" by The Story So Far. Just an airtight pop-punk record. Recommended track: “Heavy Gloom.”

3. "Barter 6" by Young Thug. Fills the void left when Weezy abdicated his throne. Recommended track: “Dream.”

4. "Goon" by Tobias Jesso, Jr. Melancholy piano music. Recommended track: “How Could You Babe.”

5. "Summertime ‘06" by Vince Staples. This just came out this week, and I can’t quit it. Recommended track: “Lemme Know.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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