SURPRISE, Ariz. — After not making the opening day roster, Kansas City Royals right-hander Glenn Sparkman made 23 starts last season. The results were rocky at times, but he went into the offseason intent on competing for the fifth spot in the club's starting rotation.
The Royals' fifth starter spot remains unsettled and likely won't have a clear-cut answer until late in camp. They seem comfortable enough that they'll find what they're looking for in-house, but the organization has come to the conclusion that the most effective use of Sparkman will almost assuredly be as a weapon out of the bullpen.
"Sparky" will be able to embrace the bulldog mentality to match his nickname. He'll be unleashed in short bursts and encouraged to go on an all-out attack from the first pitch.
Even as he got his chances in the starting rotation after Jorge Lopez shifted from a starter to a relief role, it became clear that Sparkman's best fit might also be in relief.
"When it comes down to it, whatever is best for this team is what I'm willing to do," Sparkman said. "If that's the spot they want me to go in, I'm 100% happy to do my best at that. I'm not opposed to that at all.
"I mean, everybody knows you go one inning, your arm gets a little bit stronger, spike in (velocity). For me when that velo is a little bit higher, it definitely helps that off-speed. I think it could be a good little move."
The 6-foot-2 Texan with a sturdy build and a four-seamer averaging 93.4 mph in 2019, posted a record of 4-10 with a 6.31 ERA in his 23 starts last season. He has pitched out of the bullpen in 22 of his 48 major-league outings.
Sparkman believes his slider, curveball and changeup mix better when working off of his fastball when he's airing it out in relief, but he claims his approach remains steadfast. He wants to go after the hitter and challenge him.
"My stuff seems to play better when my fastball is just a little bit harder," Sparkman said. "That's the way it kind of has looked over the years. Any time I go for a short stint, the fastball velo is up higher and everyone has to respect velo. Then you've got anything that breaks, changes speeds, it's a little bit harder because you're looking for a mid-90s or upper 90s fastball."
Royals manager Mike Matheny hasn't ruled many options out in regard to their search for a fifth starter, but he's already had a conversation with Sparkman about having a focus on making really good pitches and having an urgency that he can come in and make an impact in short stints.
Matheny said he wouldn't be completely opposed to Sparkman being stretched out a little bit too, but the mentality of using his best stuff from the first pitch against the first batter he sees will be important.
"I believe at times he'd go in just watching from the outside and listening to the coaches — he'd hold back a little bit because he thought he might have to see these guys three times," Matheny said. "I think that's taken away a little bit from his stuff. (It's about) helping him think on shorter terms and come in with your best very best stuff to get this guy out. Then trust us when we think that we've seen enough. I think it's more the psychology with Sparky."
Matheny said he sees Lopez as having the ability to pitch longer outings and also remain flexible enough to pitch effectively in short relief outings as he did at the end of last season.
Neither will be absolutely barred from contention for the fifth starter spot. Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in November that the club still believed both Sparkman and Lopez could continue making strides as starting pitchers, but they also saw both of them as "potentially dominant" in the bullpen.