Right-hander Anthony Lerew’s strong closing kick at Class AA Northwest Arkansas earned him a summons Wednesday to big leagues to fill the Royals’ need for a starting pitcher in Thursday’s series finale against Boston.
“His numbers were good and, obviously, he’s got a little bit of experience from his Atlanta days,” manager Trey Hillman said. “Obviously with where we’re at, and needing a fix in the rotation, I hope he goes out there and tears it up.”
Lerew, 26, won two postseason games for the Naturals and went 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA in his last 10 regular-season starts. Overall, he was 10-6 with a 4.09 ERA over 27 starts in first full season since returning from major elbow surgery.
“It was probably about a month ago that I felt I was back,” Lerew said. “I’d had four or five (good starts) that I strung together. Even in bullpen (workouts), I just felt I could throw it where I wanted to when I wanted to.”
The Royals cleared space for Lerew by shifting lefty swingman Bruce Chen, who has a torn left oblique, to the 60-day disabled list. The move ends Chen’s season at 1-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 17 games, including nine starts.
The club also activated veteran reliever Juan Cruz from the disabled list. Cruz is 3-4 with a 6.17 ERA in 43 games but hasn’t pitched since Aug. 5 because of a strained shoulder.
The need for a starter stems from the latest injuries to a battered rotation.
Kyle Davies had won four straight starts before a sore shoulder knocked him out of the rotation following six shutout innings Sept. 13 at Cleveland. His return this season appears increasingly unlikely.
Rookie lefty Dusty Hughes replaced Davies for last Saturday’s game at Chicago but lasted just 4 1/3 innings before exiting because of a strained elbow. Hughes has progressed to playing catch and could rejoin the bullpen before he season ends.
The Royals were already operating without Gil Meche and Brian Bannister, who are out for the season because of shoulder problems.
Lerew signed with the Royals in March after being released by the Braves. He missed much of the two previous seasons while recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, a procedure commonly known as Tommy John surgery.
“It was difficult to be out of options,” Lerew said, “having surgery and not getting any innings — and then trying to make the (Braves). I knew it probably wasn’t going to happen. The Braves had a lot of young guys.
“I got released, and Kansas City picked me up and gave me a shot. I got back on track.”
Lerew spent eight years in the Braves’ organization following his selection in 2001 as an 11th-round draft pick. He made 11 big-league appearances from 2005-07, including three starts, and went 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA in 21 2/3 innings.
The elbow injury occurred in May 2007, and he made just 14 minor-league appearances last year for the Braves before bouncing back this season at Northwest Arkansas.
“I feel good, and I feel strong,” said Lerew, who is 53-44 with a 3.52 ERA in 176 career minor-league games. “Everybody down there did a good job of getting me right. I’ve been locating the fastball, keeping it down and repeating it.
“I got rid of the split, which I think was messing up my arm angle. I’ve got a changeup working now. It’s kind of like a split, but it keeps the same arm angle and doesn’t mess anything up. So it’s fastball, changeup and slider.”
Lerew’s strong finish included a 73-pitch complete game against Springfield in the first round of the Texas League playoffs.
“That’s probably the best game I’ve ever pitched in my life. I don’t know how that happened. They were swinging early, and I was throwing strikes. I was just getting ground-ball outs.
Lerew will be the 12th pitcher this season to start a game for the Royals. The other 11: Zack Greinke (31 starts), Bannister (26), Meche (23), Luke Hochevar (23 counting Wednesday), Davies (22), Sidney Ponson (nine), Chen (nine), Robinson Tejeda (four), Lenny DiNardo (three), Hughes (one) and Horacio Ramirez (one).
Mike Jirschele stepped in as the Royals’ third-base coach after Dave Owen departed for what Hillman termed “a family emergency.” Hillman also said it’s unknown how long Owen will be absent.
Jirschele has spent the last seven seasons as the manager at Class AAA Omaha and had previously joined the big-league club as an extra staff member.
Strikeout record falls
Luke Hochevar’s second strikeout of the game was the 1,086th of the season by a Royals pitcher and set a club record. The Royals boosted their season total to 1,090 by the end of the night.
Last year’s staff held the previous record at 1,085.
Zack Greinke’s 229 strikeouts are the second-highest total in club history and just 15 short of Dennis Leonard’s club-record 244 in 1988. Hochevar, at 102, is the only other pitcher in triple figures.
Lefty reliever John Bale is still trying to return to active duty before the season ends after suffering a strained right hamstring on his first pitch in a Sept. 4 appearance against the Angels.
Plans call for Bale to throw live batting practice before Saturday’s game. He will be reevaluated after that session. He was 0-1 with a 5.93 ERA in 42 games prior to the injury.
It was 18 years ago today — Sept. 24, 1991 — that Danny Tartabull hit his 30th homer of the season in a 5-4 victory at Oakland. In doing so, Tartabull became what he remains: The only player in club history to hit 30 homers in more than one season.
Tartabull hit a career-high 34 in 1987 before finishing 1991 with 31.
The other eight 30-homer seasons in Royals history: Steve Balboni (36 in 1985), Gary Gaetti (35 in 1995), Dean Palmer (34 in 1998), John Mayberry (34 in 1975), Jermaine Dye (33 in 2000), Bo Jackson (32 in 1989), Chili Davis (30 in 1997) and George Brett (30 in 1985).
•Yuniesky Betancourt had his fourth three-hit game of the season but his first in 63 games since joining the Royals in a July 10 trade with Seattle. Betancourt also matched a career high with his sixth triple.
•Billy Butler went two for five for his club-leading 49th multi-hit game of the season.
•The Royals had won six straight home games, matching a season high, prior to Wednesday’s loss.
•Boston’s Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a single in the fifth. Dustin Pedroia boosted his streak to 15 games by going two for three.