In the offseason, Royals manager Ned Yost envisioned left-hander Matt Strahm as a vital cog in the middle of a revamped bullpen. After three subpar outings, the club wasted little time in sending Strahm back to Class AAA Omaha for a mental break.
The decision came on Tuesday. The Royals completed the bullpen reshuffling on Wednesday by summoning left-hander Scott Alexander and right-hander Jake Junis from Class AAA Omaha. Alexander effectively takes Strahm’s roster spot, while Junis replaces outfielder Terrance Gore, optioned to Class AA Northwest Arkansas on Monday. The moves leave eight men in the Royals’ bullpen.
The club could have let Strahm, a 25-year-old reliever, work through his command issues in the majors. But the move, in essence, signaled the organization’s need to get off to a strong start during the first month of the season.
“I don’t have time for that right now,” Yost said. “I don’t have time to ‘work through it.’ He needs to go down and get back to who he was. We built this bullpen with him right in the middle of it. We need him to be what he was last year. Just be him.”
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Last year, Strahm was one of the club’s best relievers during the final two months of the season. He posted a 1.23 ERA and recorded 30 strikeouts in 22 innings. He opened the season as one of the club’s primary setup men for closer Kelvin Herrera.
But the struggles came fast. Strahm allowed four earned runs in a 7-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins on opening day. He issued six walks, including two intentional, in his first 1 1/3 innings. His final appearance came Sunday, when he walked in the winning run in a 5-4 loss at Houston.
The club optioned Strahm to Omaha on Tuesday afternoon. He threw a scoreless inning his first appearance later that night.
“It’s mostly mental and confidence more than anything, I think,” Yost said. “He’ll get that back quick.”
In the meantime, the Royals will move forward with an eight-man bullpen. Alexander and Junis joined the club on Wednesday afternoon as it resumed a three-game series against the Oakland A’s.
Alexander, 27, posted a 3.32 ERA in 19 innings out of the bullpen last season. Junis, 24, will make his major-league debut when he steps on the mound for the first time. A former 29th-round pick in 2011, Junis logged innings at major-league camp before opening the season in the rotation at Class AAA Omaha. He allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in his first start and will provide depth and length out of the bullpen.
Junis lacks the pure power stuff of a relief pitcher — his fastball tops out at 92-93 mph — but Royals officials were impressed with his repertoire during spring training, Yost said. Junis also was on the 40-man roster.
“He’s got some swing-and-miss,” Yost said. “He’s got some good stuff. His first start, he was really good. He’s got a good arm.”
For Alexander, the promotion represents his latest stint in the Royals’ bullpen. He posted a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings during spring training, but a glut of left-handed relievers dimmed his prospects for making the team. Right-hander Peter Moylan won the final spot in the bullpen. Royals officials told Alexander to be ready.
“I kind of knew that we were stacked with lefties in the bullpen,” Alexander said. “So I knew adding Pete was what was best for the team.”
For now, the Royals will move forward with eight relievers. Strahm must remain in the minor leagues for at least 10 days, barring an injury. On Wednesday afternoon, Yost said he was hopeful to keep Gore on the roster for longer than a week. But the organizational need for bullpen help won out.
“We just needed an arm,” Yost said. “We were hoping to keep him until we needed an arm. We just needed it sooner.”