Reliever Peter Moylan sat at his locker in the Royals clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, slouched in his chair with his feet propped on the wall, the morning after his team suffered an 11-3 loss at the hands of the White Sox.
It was Tuesday, early enough still for the rest of his teammates to walk around looking haggard. When asked if he was comfortable, all Moylan mustered in response was, “I’m tired.”
He probably meant that he hadn’t slept enough the night before. But Moylan’s short reply illuminates one fact about the state of the team at this point in the season, with 17 games remaining after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the White Sox: There isn’t much energy left in the Royals bullpen.
Royals relievers entered Wednesday having thrown 214 2/3 innings in the second half — second-highest in the major leagues behind Toronto, whose bullpen had compiled 220 innings in the same span.
“We’re all tired,” said reliever Scott Alexander, who’s pitched 63 2/3 innings over 52 games. “We’re all trying to be available, just trying to compete and give it our all.”
The reason for the increased workload: The Royals’ starting rotation has been in shambles.
The last starter to make it through seven innings was Danny Duffy — who’s been sidelined because of an elbow injury since the end of last month — and that was on July 31. Rookie Jakob Junis has been the most consistent starter since the beginning of August, averaging about six innings per start.
Length from starters, who have only thrown 56 innings in September, is at a premium. Manager Ned Yost more often than not has had his hand forced by an early sloppy inning, including on Wednesday, when starter Eric Skoglund only made it through three innings.
Reliever Kevin McCarthy came out for the fourth inning. He allowed back-to-back hits after striking out the first two batters, and then retired the next seven White Sox he faced in a career-high three-inning performance.
It was the second time this series Yost had to use a reliever for a long outing. Trevor Cahill threw 3 1/3 innings on Monday after Jason Hammel was charged with five runs in a 3 1/3 -inning start.
“That’s where I get frustrated, trying to make sure I’m not overusing the relievers or abusing the relievers by getting them hot and sitting them down, and then an inning later getting them hot again,” Yost said. “There’s just no better way of doing it. Every game is so important.”
The prospects of this American League wild-card race is what’s kept any potential griping at bay. Yost has taken the relievers at their word and trusted them to warn him if they start to feel something go wrong.
It’s the way things have to be for the Royals right now.
“We feel like we’ve done a pretty good job this year,” said Moylan, who’s pitched in 71 games. “I guarantee at the start of this year you wouldn’t have thought myself, Mike Minor and Scott Alexander would be used the way we’ve been used right now. But unfortunately that’s where we’ve been. (Joakim Soria has) been hurt, (Kelvin Herrera) had his struggles but he’s going to be back.
“I feel like if we can sneak out a couple of wins here in the next few days it’ll really turn the clubhouse around.”