Royals send pitcher Thomson to disabled list; Nuñez to start?

CLEVELAND _ An injury to right-hander John Thomson has landed him on the disabled list and has the Royals scrambling to find a starting pitcher for Tuesday’s game in Boston.

“It’s something with his back,” manager Buddy Bell said before today’s series finale against the Indians. “We aren’t sure if he’s going to be able to pitch or not. It’s only two days from now, so we’ve got to do something.”

The likeliest candidate at this point is former reliever Leo Nuñez, who has been starting recently at Class AAA Omaha after spending the last two seasons as a reliever.

The Royals seem unlikely to activate Scott Elarton from the disabled list because Tuesday would afford him only three days rest from his last minor-league rehab start.

Club officials also apparently opted against promoting Billy Buckner from Omaha by letting him start Saturday’s game against Iowa while knowing they might need to replace Thomson.

That appears to leave Nuñez, who allowed four runs in 16 innings over three starts before pitching two scoreless innings Thursday in relief. The Royals had switched Nuñez to starting duties in order to build his endurance for possible duty as a long reliever.

Thomson, 33, is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts since signing June 22 with the Royals following his release by Toronto.

Bell said Thomson has been battling a back problem for a few days. Thomson’s time on the disabled list can be back-dated the maximum 10 days because he hasn’t pitched since July 1.

That puts Thomson in position to return after missing just one start, which means any replacement would preferably be someone already on the 40-man roster who has options remaining. Nuñez fits that profile.

Nuñez, 23, joined the Royals in a Dec. 16, 2004, trade that sent veteran catcher Benito Santiago to Pittsburgh. Nuñez spent much of 2005 and part of last season in the Royals’ bullpen and went 3-2 record with a 6.99 ERA in 48 appearances.

Nuñez began this season on the disabled list after suffering a broken wrist when hit by a line drive in spring training. He is 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 10 games at Omaha and Class AA Wichita since his return.