The Royals were faced with a dilemma. Danny Duffy is progressing through his injury recovery quickly, but is still a ways away from returning. Nate Karns originally seemed like he’d be back now but has not been heard from for a while. Eric Skoglund was sensational in his major league debut, but failed to pitch more than two innings in either of the subsequent starts.
The Royals could have asked Chris Young or Travis Wood to make a spot start; neither could have pitched for long and while both are veterans with starting experience but they’ve also both pitched atrociously all season. Jake Junis has already joined the rotation. If the Royals didn’t want to give Skoglund a third strike who was left to take the mound?
Matt Strahm will start Thursday. The Royals want to stretch him out and take a look. 65-70 pitches to start.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) June 13, 2017
Strahm will start Thursday night’s game against the Angels, although he will be limited to 65-70 pitches. Strahm made 30 starts in the minors before coming up to the big leaguse as a reliever.
At first this may seem like an interesting choice - Matt Strahm does, after all, sport a 4.50 ERA so far this season as a reliever. But after that terrible stretch to start the year which led to his demotion he has returned to put up some pretty good numbers in relief, striking out 26 batters in 20.2 innings across 17 appearances with a tidy 1.74 ERA.
Of course, a pitcher’s performance as a reliever is not a 1-to-1 conversion to starter as our own Shaun Newkirk pointed out in a piece before the season. Even so, Shaun pointed out that a lot of Strahm’s comparables are not bad guys to be linked to - including former Royal Kris Medlen (who was once very good, before a second Tommy John Surgery) and Mets starter Steven Matz who has collected a more than acceptable 3.09 ERA as a major league starter across the last three years.
There are some troubling signs, still, with Strahm even as a reliever this season. Even after his return he has been walking hitters at a clip of 5.23 per nine innings. In a relief appearance where he can throw gas to strike guys out and only has to face a handful of hitters at a time, it can be worked around. As a starter that walk rate can be much more problematic. If you have any doubts on that score just remember what Jason Hammel was doing before his last couple of starts. Lots of walks and lots and lots of runs to go with them.
Still there is, as they say, a reason they play the game on the field instead of on paper. Strahm may dazzle the Angels on Thursday. They’re a weak team and currently missing their superstar Mike Trout who is out with a thumb injury. They’re as good a team to try and make the transition from reliever to starter against as any. This is something a lot of Royals fans were hoping for before the season started, and now they’ll get a chance to see it play out in real life.