SURPRISE, Ariz. — It’s getting harder and harder to think of Royals right-hander Aaron Crow as anything but a reliever.
It isn’t hard to see why.
Crow quickly ticks off the four best reasons: James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis. The Royals retained Guthrie through free agency and acquired the other three starting pitchers through off-season trades.
“Those guys are at the top of the rotation,” Crow said. “And we’ve got a lot of options for the other spot. I’ve been in the bullpen for the last couple of years. So I’ll just keep doing that.”
It was only last spring that the Royals, starved for help in their rotation, took a hard look at putting Crow, an All-Star the previous year as a rookie reliever, into their starting unit. Crow geared his off-season conditioning toward being a starter.
The switch failed to materialize, largely, because the Royals found themselves with a thinned bullpen after closer Joakim Soria exited a March 18 game because of what was subsequently diagnosed as a torn elbow ligament.
Crow returned to relief and matched Kelvin Herrera with a club-leading 19 holds while making 73 appearances and compiling a 3.48 ERA. Crow roughly maintained his strikeout-per-inning pace while cutting his walk rate from 4.5 to 3.1 per nine innings.
“He’s a guy who I trust to come into a game in a tight situation,” manager Ned Yost said, “and get us out of it. Those guys are hard to find. The thing that’s so encouraging to me is I feel I’ve got a bullpen stocked with those guys.”
The Royals, of course, envisioned Crow as a cornerstone of future rotations when they selected him with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He was the Big 12 pitcher of the year in 2008 after going 13-0 with a 2.35 ERA in 15 starts for Missouri.
Putting Crow in the bullpen as a rookie in 2011 was viewed, at the time, as little more than an acclimation process to his future role. The rotation still seemed a likely landing spot until general manager Dayton Moore retooled the unit in off-season moves.
“We have five, six, eight or nine guys who are starters,” Yost said. “There is no need to move Aaron Crow out of the bullpen. Plus, he fills such a big role there that it’s hard to think about moving him.”
Crow, 26, has no problems with the status quo.
“I’ve been a reliever the last two years,” he said, “and I’m going to be one again this year. So that’s really all that I’m focused on.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys out there. If Greg (Holland) needs a day off, there are three or four guys who can step up; guys who are good enough to be closers on a lot of teams.”
Crow plans to spend his spring simply focusing on sharpening his pitches prior to the April 1 opener against the White Sox in Chicago.
“I just want to be more consistent with everything,” he said. “You can always get better at everything. Throw more strikes down in the zone. I just want to try to keep getting better at that.”
Doing all that from the bullpen is just fine.
“It’s better to be in the bullpen in the big leagues,” he said, “than to be a starter working on stuff in Triple-A.”