A revelation in relief, rookie Matt Strahm will get opportunity to start next spring

The Royals have restricted Matt Strahm from pitching on back-to-back days. “It’s not the innings,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s just making sure we don’t overwork him.”
The Royals have restricted Matt Strahm from pitching on back-to-back days. “It’s not the innings,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s just making sure we don’t overwork him.”

Matt Strahm, a rookie left-hander who spent much of this season starting at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, has allowed just one run in his first nine appearances. He has struck out 17 in 9  1/3 innings. He has walked just three. He has, in most tangible ways, been a revelation since being called up in late July.

But as Strahm continues to overpower opponents out of the bullpen, Royals general manager Dayton Moore remains clear on this: The organization views Strahm as a possible option for the starting rotation going forward. In specific, Strahm will have an opportunity to compete for a spot in the starting rotation during spring training in 2017.

“You need to develop starters,” Moore told The Star on Wednesday.

Before setting into the Royals’ bullpen, Strahm posted a 3.43 ERA with 107 strikeouts in 102  1/3 innings at Northwest Arkansas. He made 18 starts before transitioning to a relief role, a move made to conserve innings and prepare for a possible late-season call-up.

Strahm’s major-league debut came after closer Wade Davis suffered a recurrence of a forearm strain in late July. But the Royals have chosen to be careful with the 24-year-old lefty. Strahm has already surpassed his career high in innings pitched (94 last season), so the Royals have restricted him from pitching on back-to-back days.

“It’s more usage than it is innings,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s not the innings. It’s just making sure we don’t overwork him.

“He hasn’t gone back to back all year in the minors leagues. With him being a starter, we’re just being extra cautious.”

Strahm, a 21st-round pick in 2012, missed all of the 2013 season and most of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He spent most of 2015 pitching in relief before transitioning back to longer outings toward the end of the year at Class A Wilmington.

Armed with a fastball that has regularly hit 96 mph out of the bullpen and an effective breaking ball, Strahm said he spent much of this season trying to polish his third pitch, a change-up. As a reliever in Kansas City, he has rarely needed to use it. But that could change next spring.

For now, Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy and Yordano Ventura are virtual locks to start the 2017 season in the rotation. But the Royals could have openings at the back end of the unit.

Left-hander Jason Vargas will be fully healthy after recovering from Tommy John surgery and veteran Chris Young and left-hander Mike Minor are also under contract for next season. Strahm will headline a group of young pitchers joining the competition.

In his first month in the big leagues, Strahm has moonlighted as a shutdown reliever, making a case for a bullpen role in 2017 if he does not end up in the rotation. But for now, that appears to be the backup plan.

“I’ll just pitch where they need me to pitch,” Strahm said. “I like them both, so whichever one they see me helping the club with more.”

Minor shut down for the season

Royals general manager Dayton Moore confirmed Wednesday that left-hander Mike Minor has been shut down for the season after experiencing a setback in a recent rehab start.

Minor, who was returning from a labrum injury in his left shoulder, is battling inflammation in his left shoulder. Moore said the news was “disappointing”, but he expressed hope that Minor would be healthy for spring training in 2017.

Davis makes first rehab stint

Closer Wade Davis was scheduled to throw one inning on Wednesday for the Royals’ rookie-league affiliate in Surprise, Ariz., the first official appearance of his rehab assignment.

Davis was placed on the disabled list on July 31 — retroactive to July 28 — and he is eligible to return when deemed fully healthy.