The Kansas City Royals open spring training Feb. 18, when pitchers and catchers report to their complex in Surprise, Ariz. The full squad is due on Feb. 22.
The first game will be March 2 against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. The regular season begins against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on April 3, when the franchise will raise its second World Series championship flag.
Before the Royals report to spring training, The Star is looking at five key questions heading into the 2016 season. On Monday, we looked at the position battles in right field and second base. On to question No. 2:
2. Is the Royals’ re-tooled rotation ready to carry a bigger load?
The Royals’ starting rotation ranked last in the American League in innings pitched in 2015, a flaw that general manager Dayton Moore tried to improve this offseason. The club signed right-hander Ian Kennedy to gobble up innings in the middle of the rotation and added depth by re-signing Chris Young and inking right-hander Dillon Gee to a minor-league deal. With one of the best bullpens in baseball, the Royals can afford to be flexible with their rotation usage, but club officials would like to see more than the 912 2/3 innings logged by starters in 2015.
The club returns just two starters who topped 150 innings last season — righties Edinson Volquez (198 1/3 ) and Yordano Ventura (163 1/3 ) — and spring training could dictate how the rotation sets up to begin the season. Kennedy will likely slot in behind Volquez and Ventura, while the fourth and fifth spots are expected to be filled by a combination of Young, righty Kris Medlen and lefty Danny Duffy.
Duffy recorded a 4.35 ERA in 128 1/3 innings as a starter in 2015, while Medlen threw 58 1/3 innings (44 as a starter) in his return from a second Tommy John surgery. Young added 123 1/3 innings, including 99 as a starter. As a unit, the Royals’ rotation posted a 4.34 ERA in 2015, which ranked 12th in the American League.
If the Royals can get close to 550 to 575 innings from their top three starters, that would be a solid foundation. Kennedy has proven to be a durable piece, averaging 195 innings in his last six seasons. They will also hope to get more work from Medlen, who should be able to shoulder a larger load in 2016. Other possibilities exist as well. Left-hander Jason Vargas, who underwent Tommy John surgery last July, could be available to return in the second half, while right-hander Kyle Zimmer must prove he can remain healthy in the minor leagues.
The volume of starters’ innings doesn’t always correlate perfectly with winning — the other AL playoff teams last season finished second, fourth, eighth and 12th in the category — but the Royals would no doubt like to relieve some pressure from their dependable bullpen.