Ned Yost announced today that pitcher Ian Kennedy will begin the year out of the bullpen, according to MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan. The 34-year old right-hander is in the fourth year of a five-year, $70 million deal that will pay him $16.5 million this year. Over the last two years, Kennedy has been replacement-level with a 5.06 ERA ranking 14th-worst among the 125 starting pitchers to go at least 200 innings over the last two seasons.
The move almost certainly means that Jorge Lopez is a lock to make the rotation, along with Opening Day starter Brad Keller and Jakob Junis. Lopez has had a terrific spring, and at age 26, the Royals will want to see what he is capable of as a starter. The fourth spot will be between 24-year old Heath Fillmyer and 32-year old veteran Homer Bailey. The Royals will not need a fifth starter until the second week of the season. Danny Duffy is expected to begin the year in extended spring training with shoulder stiffness, but he could be ready by the time a fifth starter is needed. Fillmyer has an option year remaining and Bailey can opt-out of his deal if he doesn’t make the Major League roster by March 25.
Yost has been considering the idea of moving Kennedy to the bullpen since the beginning of camp, telling reporter Lynn Worthy of the Star, “He’s a guy that can strike guys out with his fastball. He’s a guy that we think that type of workload might keep him healthier than he has (been) in the past.” Kennedy seemed open to doing whatever it took to win games, but told Rustin Dodd of The Athletic, “Honestly, throwing out of a relief role where you don’t really know your role, that’s not appealing.”
Ian Kennedy talked about the switch to the pen and how to prepare. His velocity was up in the bullpen the other day pic.twitter.com/rI4RpAqh5K— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) March 19, 2019
Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta are expected to get the late inning closer situations with Jake Diekman and Tim Hill also likely to see action late in games. Yost has indicated he may not have clear roles for his relievers this year, and it remains unclear whether Kennedy would serve as a long reliever or as a short-man late in ballgames. He entered Sunday’s game against the Giants in the seventh inning and pitched one scoreless inning.
For a rebuild, moving Kennedy to the bullpen makes a lot of sense. The Royals will get to see more from young starters like Lopez and Fillmyer, and Kennedy may well have more success as a reliever. He has always had swing-and-miss stuff, and he could stay healthier in shorter outings. He also struggled mightily the second time through a lineup last year - out of 162 pitchers who faced at least 100 hitters a second time through, Kennedy’s opponents had a .971 OPS, the worst mark in baseball.