SURPRISE, Ariz. — Want to get a rise out of Royals manager Ned Yost?
Suggest he is now blessed with an abundance of pitching – or say, specifically, that he faces some interesting decisions if and when Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino return, as projected, at midseason in their recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Prepare to stand back and hold on.
“It’s the start of spring training,” Yost growls. “I don’t care what happens in July. You know what? You cannot get enough starting pitching. You cannot have enough of it.
“Over the course of the year, something always happens, and you’re always going to need it. What Duffy and Paulino are, are insurance policies that come as a benefit to us around the All-Star break.
“Things will be different by then, but it’s nothing to worry about right now. It’s not a subject that even needs to be broached now. If some person wants to know right now … why?
Well, yes, things happen.
A year ago, Duffy and Paulino were the two best starters in the Royals’ rotation before major elbow injuries derailed both in a 25-day span from mid-May to early June.
“You can’t have enough and, trust me,” Yost said, “I am extremely pleased we have them both out there, and that they will be available around the All-Star break. It’s two quality pitchers who are going to be back and available to us around the All-Star break.
“But I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t read the future. So I take it day to day.”
Even so, less than a week in camp, much already seems clear.
Yost said James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis will, barring injuries or something unforeseen, open the season as the rotation’s front four.
Shields appears slotted at No. 1, and Davis at No. 4.
Yost said he’s “still mulling” whether to use Santana or Guthrie in the No. 2 slot. It’s a key decision because the No. 2 starter would, as things line up, start the April 8 home opener against Minnesota.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to start any of our starters in the home opener,” Yost said. “I’ve got confidence in all of these guys.”
Yost has also said repeatedly that Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza will all make the club. All three are competing to be the fifth starter, which means the other two will serve as long relievers.
What remains undecided is whether the Royals will roll five starters through April, when the schedule requires a fifth starter only once in the first 21 games.
The Royals are already leaning toward a seven-man bullpen in order to carry an additional utility player.
If so, that leaves just one opening because, in addition to the two long relieves men, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow are ensured jobs. Yost also spikes any speculation of anyone challenging Holland for duty as closer.
“There’s no question,” Yost said. “There’s no competition at closer. But there’s a lot of competition for that last job or two in the bullpen — guys who have pitched in the big leagues and guys who haven’t pitched in the big leagues but have quality stuff with the ability to throw strikes.
“That’s important. I’m not taking anybody on that pitching staff who can’t throw strikes. We’ve got enough candidates now where we don’t have to take a pure-stuff guy who has trouble growing strikes. No, you’d better be able to throw some strikes.”
Just six days until games start.