The Royals tweaked their starting rotation Friday, hours before commencing a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins that will span three days. But the pitching staff’s most significant development might come Tuesday in Seattle.
Left-hander Danny Duffy, on the disabled list since late May, will likely return Tuesday to start against the Mariners at Safeco Field, manager Ned Yost said Friday. Duffy completed his second rehab start for Class AAA Omaha on Thursday in Colorado Springs. Royals assistant general manager Scott Sharp monitored the start in person and offered a positive review.
“We’re leaning that way,” Yost said, later adding, “He looked great. Threw the ball well.”
The Duffy maneuver is coupled by a series of other shakeups to the rotation. Left-hander Travis Wood is in line to make his first start of the season Sunday, moving lefty Matt Strahm to the bullpen, though that plan is contingent on bullpen usage over the next two days.
More: Omaha right-hander Luke Farrell will make his first major-league start on Saturday in Game 1 of the doubleheader. The Royals also optioned right-hander Jakob Junis to Omaha and recalled left-hander Eric Skoglund to serve as depth for Saturday’s doubleheader.
But the headliner is Duffy. If he indeed rejoins the Royals on Tuesday as scheduled, the return would come slightly earlier than anticipated after he was initially expected to make three rehab starts. But he has responded well from a strained oblique muscle. Duffy was 4-4 with a 3.54 earned run average with the Royals before the injury.
Pitching for Class AAA Omaha on Thursday, he limited Colorado Springs to one run on four hits over 4 2/3 innings. He threw 66 pitches, but Yost said he is ready for 90-95 pitches in his next appearance.
“He said he felt like he could have gone another three innings,” Yost said.
Two days before Duffy will likely return to the rotation, Wood will receive an audition to join him there. After signing a two-year, $12-million deal in spring training, Wood struggled out of the bullpen in April. But the Royals believe he has moved on from the command issues that triggered those struggles.
“He’s been right back to (throwing) strikes. Been very efficient; been very effective,” Yost said. “Let’s give it a shot and see what we got.”
After posting a 9.31 ERA in his initial 18 games, Wood has completed seven straight scoreless outings, spanning 9 1/3 innings. He has walked just one over that time frame.
“It’s going to be a long weekend, and (after) that last game, the bullpen is probably going to be pretty shot, so hopefully I can go out there and go as deep as they’ll let me,” Wood said.
The corresponding move relocates Strahm to the bullpen, his more familiar spot while wearing a major league uniform.
That’s the short-term plan. The long-term outlook remains Strahm occupying a spot in the Royals rotation.
“Our focus, now that we’ve gotten back in it, is we’re going to try to give ourselves the best opportunity every single night to win a baseball game. Putting Matt Strahm in the bullpen is what’s best for our organization right now,” Yost said.
While Strahm excelled in his first start — holding the Angels without an earned run over five innings — the ensuing two included distress. Strahm allowed five runs each to the Red Sox and Tigers, failing to complete four innings in either start.
Yost said Strahm became “overexposed” the second and third time through an opponent’s batting order.
“He understands that young guys will struggle, especially in starting situations,” Yost said. “He’s got no issues with his mental state.”
The Royals fell to 21-28 after Danny Duffy made his last start on May 28. Since then they’ve gone 17-11, entering play Friday. A look at how they’ve stayed afloat with him on the DL:
W-L (AL rank)
Statistics entering play Friday