Bruce Chen wore a grimace as he walked off the diamond and onto an expected stint on the disabled list. Chen could not throw his scheduled bullpen session Thursday afternoon because of a bulging disk in his back. Danny Duffy is expected to replace him on the mound Saturday against Detroit.
Chen received an epidural Monday. He never even reached the bullpen on Thursday. After warming up for a brief period, Chen and pitching coach Dave Eiland headed back into the clubhouse.
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“He just didn’t feel good,” manager Ned Yost said before Thursday’s game. “His back was still stiff. He still felt a little bit of pain.”
Yost stopped short of announcing Duffy as his starter for Saturday. But he is the most likely candidate, and could throw up to 65 pitches. A fellow reliever like Michael Mariot would be expected to back Duffy up.
Duffy looked skittish in his last two appearances. He cost the team a victory this last weekend in Baltimore. He cost them a lead on Wednesday night. But Yost is still confident Duffy can deliver as a starter.
“Guys have bad games,” Yost said with a shrug.
As a corresponding move for Chen, the team could call up lefty reliever Tim Collins. He completed a two-inning appearance with Class AAA Omaha. Collins struck out five batters in that stint, but he also hit a batter and walked another.
Yost watched Collins’ outing in the morning. His scouting report was measured. “Still a little erratic with his command,” Yost said.
Yost doesn’t think Chen will require the full 15 days to recover. The team can back-date his time on the DL to April 25, the day after Chen’s last appearance.
“He’ll probably be ready to pitch before he comes off the DL,” Yost said.
Chen dealt with back pain for most of April. The team initially categorized his injury as tightness in his left glute. An MRI this week revealed that the pain shooting down Chen’s leg radiated from a disk pressing against a nerve. The epidural was designed to reduce the swelling.
“It’s just waiting for that process to happen,” Yost said.
Mitch Maier, a longtime Royal and former first-round pick, rejoined the organization on a minor-league contract. The team assigned him to Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Maier, a 31-year-old outfielder, appeared for the Royals in parts of six big-league seasons. He was a regular in 2009 and 2010.
The Royals cut ties with Maier after 2012. He played last season in the Red Sox organization. After spending spring training with the Cubs this last spring, Maier once again became a free agent.
For his career, he is a .248 hitter with a .671 OPS. He also tossed scoreless innings on two separate occasions in 2011 and 2012.
Rehab for Cain, Bueno
Outfielder Lorenzo Cain (strained groin) will start a rehab assignment today in Omaha. Lefty reliever Francisley Bueno (bruised left pinkie) will join him Saturday.
Cain indicated he would need about 20 at-bats before he’d feel comfortable to return. He could rejoin the team in San Diego or Seattle.