The Royals will utilize all six of their starters this week when Jason Vargas returns from the disabled list.
The team intends to start Vargas, who has not pitched since June 8 due to a strained flexor muscle in his left elbow, on Tuesday against Pittsburgh. He will follow Yordano Ventura, who takes the series opener against the Pirates. Edinson Volquez will face his former club in the series finale, and Chris Young will start the makeup game in St. Louis on Thursday.
Here is where the schedule gets interesting.
Facing the Astros starting Friday will be the three starters who look most in jeopardy of losing their spot in the rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Danny Duffy and Ventura.
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“I’m not going to run a six-man rotation,” manager Ned Yost said before Sunday’s series finale with the White Sox. “But we’re going to have to figure out who are the most productive guys. We’ve got to go on who is getting the job done.”
Young could benefit from a stay in the bullpen, as he has experienced some regression in July. But Yost has yet to mention him as a candidate for a relief role. The pitchers with the highest ERAs are Duffy, Guthrie and Ventura.
“When you sit down and look at it, really, Duffy and Ventura and Guthrie were our best guys at the end of the year last year,” Yost said. “They were. All three of them. And all three of them have had their struggles this year, but you still work to get them going, because you know what they can do. But then again, Duffy and Ventura do have definite value coming out of the ‘pen, to get us to where we need to go.”
Yost said all of this before Duffy gave up one run in eight innings of work against Chicago. Barring a collapse in his next outing, Duffy appears assured of remaining in the rotation. So perhaps it comes down to a simple value judgment of Ventura, Guthrie and Young. The decision is still a week away, and much can happen in the intervening days.
For now, here are the pitching matchups for this three-game series with Pittsburgh at Kauffman Stadium:
Monday, 7:10 p.m.: RHP Yordano Ventura (4-6, 4.73 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (7-3, 2.11 ERA)
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.: LHP Jason Vargas (5-2, 4.10 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (13-3, 2.30 ERA).
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: RHP Edinson Volquez (8-5, 3.28 ERA) vs. RHP Charlie Morton (6-3, 4.34 ERA).
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“Stay By Me” by Annie Lennox.