Andy McCullough, the beat writer for the Kansas City Royals, sent shock waves through the fan base this afternoon as he sent out a report on Twitter regarding coveted starting pitcher Bruce Chen:
Bruce Chen received an epidural to combat an inflamed disc in his back. The team is not sure if he can start Saturday.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) April 29, 2014
Shock waves might be hyperbole. A ripple, maybe? A cough in a vacuum?
The news comes off of three straight starts in which Chen has given up at least four earned runs and hasn't recorded an out in the sixth inning of any contest. In total, he has pitched thirteen innings, giving up twenty-one hits and seven walks with an atypically high number of strikeouts (eleven, to be exact). He has a 10.38 ERA in those three games.
Of all the starting pitchers on the team, an injury to Chen may hurt the least. Regardless of his struggles, the Royals have a decent swath of fifth starter options.
The most likely candidate is current bullpen long-man Danny Duffy, who battled with Chen during Spring Training for the fifth spot in the rotation.After a few starts in AAA, Duffy has pitched exclusively in relief since his call-up. In five appearances, he has a 0-1 record with a 0.00 ERA in 8.1 IP, combined with eleven strikeouts, two walks, and a WHIP of 0.84.
The injury comes off of the organization's decision to let Ervin Santana walk while retaining the services of Luke Hochevar, who is out for the season following Tommy John surgery, and re-signing Bruce Chen. Those, combined with the Jason Vargas signing, would have covered Santana's salary, with enough to spare to make up for the lost draft pick they gained when the Braves signed the right-handed pitcher in free agency. While Vargas has pitched well for the Royals thus far (1.54 ERA, 4.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 in 35.0 IP), Santana has picked up where he left off last year (1.95 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 in 27.2 IP).
Other options within the Royals system include career journeyman Brett Tomko, who is in the Royals organization for the second time in his career and has been in AAA all season, or quasi-prospects Chris Dwyer and John Lamb could make an appearance.
The other interesting, out-of-the-box idea (so, not going to happen) would be to piggyback Danny Duffy and fellow reliever Wade Davis, both of whom have not pitched since April 26th, both of whom were starters in their former lives.
Chen's next scheduled start is Saturday, May 3rd against the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.