Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals placed starting pitcher Bruce Chen on the 15-day disabled list with a strained lat muscle in his back. In his place on the roster and in the rotation will be Vin Mazzaro.
Vin Mazzaro was originally slated to join the season the Royals rotation as soon as they needed a fifth starter, however his first game at AAA Omaha was a complete disaster. He walked 7 batters in 2.1 innings and gave up 5 earned runs and pitched his way out of the rotation and the Royals gave Sean O'Sullivan his spot.
Mazzarro's shot at sticking in the rotation begins tonight at Yankee Stadium, which is no small obstacle to overcome. He's a command pitcher who throws a low 90's fastball and relies heavily on his above average slider. He's been working on adding another off-speed pitch to his arsenal, but it's unclear at this point whether he's done so.
The interesting question is what happens if he pitches well until Bruce Chen gets back from his stint on the disabled list? I honestly don't even have an inkling as to what they would do in that scenario. Let's look at each candidate to see what might take place.
He's clearly earned his spot in the rotation. When he comes back, he's in the rotation. His injury seems minor, so he should be back soon. He is scheduled to come off the DL on May 21.
He started Opening Day and has pitched pretty well though he's still been prone to the big inning. If he's healthy, he's another untouchable guy this season.
Kyle Davies demise has been predicted for a long time by Royals fans. He's become the whipping boy of the fanbase and with an ERA of 7.08 he looks like a prime candidate for replacement. However, he's actually pitching pretty well right now. He has a team-leading and career-high strikeout rate that he's matching with a career low walk rate. He finally seems to have begun trusting his stuff and started pounding the strike zone. I know that people want him gone, but I don't envision a non-injury scenario that pushes him out within the next mont.
He pitched really well in his first four games, then terrible in the next three and did well in his last start. I don't think anyone is quite sure what the Royals have in Jeff Francis right now. He's not likely in the Royals future plans, but they would like to trade him if the season goes south. If he isn't in the rotation, he isn't going to be traded. He's a veteran presence who the Royals like in the locker room and in the rotation. However, I think he is a prime candidate to be replaced by Mazzaro. If Mazzaro pitches well, I can envision a scenario where Francis could use some time to rest and has a small tweak in his arm. He goes to the DL for a short stint and Mazzaro keeps pitching.
The real battle here is O'Sullivan vs Mazzaro. It sounds like a prize-fight from the early 1900's between two New York immigrants, but unfortunately it won't be half as intriguing. O'Sullivan's spot in the rotation belonged to Mazzaro and they will battle it out again for the rights to it. O'Sullivan has been effective, but his numbers indicate that it's all smoke-and-mirrors. His strikeout rate and walk rate are the worst in the rotation and that eventually will catch up to a pitcher. May 21 might not be enough time for Mazzaro to unseat O'Sullivan, but it's looking like round 1 of 15.
The situation is still murky and picking the starting five a month from now is exceedingly difficult. It's possible, though unlikely that the Royals could go with something less traditional like a six man rotation. Ned Yost doesn't seem like a manager who likes to get too far outside of the traditional way of thinking and I don't see him wanting to surrender another bullpen arm. It all starts tonight in Yankee Stadium, and I'm interested to see how it all plays out.