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Royals promote reliever John McMillon

Nick Wittgren is shipped out.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Michigan vs Texas Tech Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals have promoted right-handed reliever John McMillon from Double-A Northwest Arkansas and optioned down pitcher Nick Wittgren. McMillon is a 25-year-old who was an undrafted free agent signed in 2020 out of Texas Tech. In 51 1/3 innings in the minors this year, he has a 2.10 ERA and 16 strikeouts per-nine-innings, the highest strikeout rate by any minor leaguer with at least 50 innings pitched this year.

McMillon struggled to throw strikes last year, and split time between Low-A Columbia and the Royals’ training complex in Arizona. He began this year back in Columbia, but quickly moved up to High-A Quad Cities, where he struck out over half the batters he faced with a 2.70 ERA and just eight walks in 20 innings. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he gave up just two earned runs in 20 23 innings for a 0.87 ERA, striking out 30 hitters.

McMillon regularly throws in the upper-90s and can hit triple digits on the radar gun with some frequency. He was drafted by the Rays out of high school and was an 11th round pick by the Tigers in 2019 before going undrafted in the shortened five-round draft in 2020. MLB Pipeline projected he would have been a sixth-to-tenth round pick in a regular draft that year.

Nick Wittgren appeared in 27 games with the Royals and posted a 4.97 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29 innings. He failed to protect a one-run ninth inning lead against the Mariners last night, giving up two singles and a walk to the five batters he faced. The 32-year-old has a 4.04 ERA in 329 1/3 career MLB innings.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Royals placed Brad Keller back on the 60-day Injured List. Keller has been out since mid-May with right shoulder impingement and suffered a setback in his rehab assignment last month.