Right-hander Felipe Paulino is heading to the 15-day disabled list because of a sore elbow in a move that makes the Royals’ rotation final. Right-hander Luis Mendoza and lefty Danny Duffy will now get the final two spots.
Paulino’s injury is characterized as a “right forearm flexor pronator strain” and isn’t believed to be serious.
“If this was during the regular season,” manager Ned Yost said, “we would (skip) him a start. That’s what he needs. He just needs to be backed off for three or four days, get the tightness and inflammation out of there, and get him back.
“But since we’re at a point where it doesn’t make any sense to do that, we’re going to put him on the DL and get the thing completely healthy. Then he can go back to pitching. We’ll give him a rehab start or two or three or whatever it takes.
“Then we’ll see where we are and go from there.”
Mendoza, 28, resurrected his career last season at Triple-A Omaha and has been the club’s best pitcher this spring in going 4-0 in five starts while limiting opponents to one run in 16 2/3 innings.
He will get the fourth slot in the rotation behind Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sánchez. Yost announced the unit’s first three starters after Tuesday’s 9-7 victory over Milwaukee.
Mendoza is in line to make his season debut April 9, when the Royals open a three-game series at Oakland. Duffy will pitch the following night before the rotation recycles when Chen closes out the six-game road trip.
Duffy, 23, was 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA last season in 20 starts as a rookie. He opened the spring with two dominant innings against the Reds but has struggled in three subsequent outings. He permitted four runs in three innings Tuesday in a minor-league game.
“He’s not the finished product,” Yost said. “We’ve got to work him. His stuff is spectacular, but he’s at a stage in his development where he’s not the finished product. He’s a young pitcher who is still evolving as a major-league pitcher.”
Yost said Duffy’s development is at a stage where he needs to face major-league hitters rather than simply work on fine-tuning his repertoire in the minors.
“Danny is at a point in his career where, in spurts, he can command the ball,” Yost said. “But it takes repetition. It takes being out there to develop that consistency. He needs to develop up here (in the majors).”
Yost declined to address how Paulino’s injury affects the bullpen, though it seems to position lefty Everett Teaford to be the long reliever. That duty, if the Royals kept only one long reliever, previously appeared ticketed for either Paulino or Mendoza.
Four pitchers appear to be locks in what projects as a seven-man bullpen: right-handers Greg Holland, Jonathan Broxton and Aaron Crow along with situational lefty José Mijares.
If Teaford gets the long-relief role, that leaves five candidates for two available spots: Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Tommy Hottovy and Jeremy Jeffress.
Paulino, 28, was 4-6 last season with a 4.11 ERA in 21 games, including 20 starts, after coming to the Royals in a May 26 trade from Colorado for cash considerations. He had 119 strikeouts in 124 2/3 innings.
The Royals have not yet determined when to place Paulino on the disabled list. His injury can be backdated to Monday, which means April 10 is his earliest possible return date. A minor-league rehab assignment would probably push that return to mid-to-late April.
“He went through it last year,” Yost said, “but he got through it. It’s just an issue that he deals with. He’s a real tight-bodied guy. It’s an issue we’ve dealt with before. It’s not a ligament problem. It’s forearm tightness.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to push through this right now.”