How a winter back in Australia helped the Royals’ Peter Moylan get off to a fast start

Royals' Peter Moylan on playing in WBC after return from Team Australia

Kansas City Royals and Team Australia pitcher Peter Moylan talks about playing in the World Baseball Classic and the injury to Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
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Kansas City Royals and Team Australia pitcher Peter Moylan talks about playing in the World Baseball Classic and the injury to Royals catcher Salvador Perez.

At 38 years old, Peter Moylan did not wish to return to the minor leagues. He had little time for that, literally and figuratively. After a solid season in the Royals bullpen in 2016, he believed he belonged in the major leagues.

So as he spent his winter back home in Melbourne, Australia, he mapped out a plan to avoid a return to the minors.

He signed on as the pitching coach of the Melbourne Aces of the Australian Baseball League. After Christmas, he joined the club’s bullpen, throwing 9  2/3 innings.

The work served as preparation for a trip to the World Baseball Classic, where he pitched for Team Australia. But after failing to make the Royals’ roster out of spring training in 2016, it also served as a means to hit the ground running this spring.

“With what happened in spring training last year,” Moylan said, “I wanted to come into spring training ready to pitch.”

The early workload helped Moylan win the final spot in the Royals bullpen during spring training. It also laid the groundwork for a strong start during the season’s first week. Entering Sunday’s series finale in Houston, Moylan had posted 2  2/3 scoreless innings in four appearances. As the bullpen scuffled in a season-opening series in Minnesota, Moylan emerged as a positive counterweight.

“We’re still sorting through things,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Saturday. “But he’s done a great job, and he’s becoming that guy to rely on.”

In some ways, Moylan, a veteran side-armer, has picked up where he left off in 2016, when he posted a 3.43 ERA in 44  2/3 innings across 50 appearances. After years of injury problems — two Tommy John surgeries, back issues, and just 28  2/3 innings between 2011 and 2014 — Moylan re-established himself as a viable reliever last season. But when he returned home to Australia in the winter, he still did not have a major-league contract. He settled for a minor-league deal with the Royals and headed to camp to win a job.

He did just that by allowing three earned runs and recording eight strikeouts in 10 appearances. He beat out a collection of internal candidates, including left-hander Scott Alexander, right-hander Yender Caramo and left-hander Eric Stout.

“With what he did in the second half for us, it wasn’t that tough of a decision,” Yost said. “We know what we had in Peter. And we don’t have to worry about him.”

As a reliever, Moylan offers two clear strengths. He is a terror on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .217 batting average and .278 on-base percentage in his career. He also possesses a durable arm that can handle a heavy workload. On Saturday, he threw a scoreless inning in a 7-3 victory, pitching for a third straight day.

“We knew he would take the ball,” Yost said.

Moylan’s specialty is matching up against right-handed hitters. Yet the composition of the Royals’ bullpen, which includes three left-handers, may force him to face more lefties this season. If the opposing offense has a right-left-right alignment coming up in the sixth or seventh inning, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland said the situation may require Moylan to face a left-hander, rather than burn another pitcher. So far, the results have been promising in that area, too. In a 5-1 victory on Friday, Moylan struck out left-handed hitting Josh Reddick in the seventh inning with the tying run on second base.

“In that situation, you’ve got the tying runner on second base,” Moylan said. “I’m not going to let a left-handed hitter beat me with a base open. So I got a call on a slider on the outside corner that sort of turned the at-bat around a little bit. And then I was able to go at him with a fastball.”

The moment illustrated Moylan’s value in the bullpen. The next day, he credited his winter work for his solid start.

“I feel like the early season isn’t quite as early for me as it would normally be,” Moylan said. “So I feel great. I feel comfortable on the mound.”