Junis ready whenever Royals need him

Lynn Worthy
Kansas City Star
Kansas City Royals' Jakob Junis pitches in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the San Diego Padres on March 7, 2021, in Peoria, Ariz. [AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki]

TEMPE, Ariz. — Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny has used the term hybrid to describe the versatility of pitchers Jakob Junis, Ervin Santana and Carlos Hernández because of their demonstrated ability as starters combined with their potential effectiveness as relievers.

Junis, who has made more starts and thrown more innings than any Royals pitcher the last three seasons, clearly has decided titles and roles aren't his primary worry. He's simply concerning himself with getting outs.

That's exactly what he did on Wednesday. Junis faced six batters, recorded six outs and struck out three in a two-inning relief outing in the Royals' 4-2 spring training loss to the Los Angeles Angels in front of an announced 2,013 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Third baseman Hunter Dozier hit his fourth home run of the spring, Adalberto Mondesi tripled, while Andrew Benintendi and Jorge Soler (2 for 4) hit doubles for the Royals (13-7-3).

Junis entered the game in the third after left-hander Daniel Lynch pitched the first two.

"Really, my approach is just whenever my name is called go out there and be ready and do my thing," Junis said. "I'm not going to think about it too much and worry about it. I know I'm starting in the bullpen that first series or few series and whatever. I'm going to be ready to go out of the bullpen and throw my stuff and hopefully get the job done."

Junis entered the game and mowed down the top of an Angels lineup that featured Dexter Fowler, Jared Walsh and Mike Trout. He struck out Fowler swinging and froze Trout on a called third strike.

The next inning, he got Anthony Rendon to fly out, struck out Justin Upton swinging and got Albert Pujols to fly out.

"Today, the cutter was a little bit more straight, but it had a little bit of depth," Junis said. "... All in all, I was just throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead in the count. That's what I noticed today, really starting guys off with a strike. It's a lot easier to pitch that way."

Junis, who added the cutter or cut fastball to his arsenal this offseason, remains an option as a potential fifth starter for the Royals. The Royals won't play five consecutive days until April 10-14.

The Royals sent left-hander Kris Bubic to the minors last week. Bubic figures to be in the conversation for the fifth starter, but Jackson Kowar and Lynch could also enter the conversation.

"We're just kind of giving looks, whether it's frequency or total workload, just trying to get everything we can from looking at all of our pitchers that we've kind of clumped together as he can be this or he can be that," Matheny said of Hernández, Santana and Junis on Wednesday morning.

Matheny seems to be leaving all avenues in play, including one of his hybrid relievers eventually turning into a fifth starter when needed.

"We need to take our best team with us when we head out of the gate," Matheny said. "We should have a number of guys who could be options for when we do actually need that fifth starter, which again, we're talking a couple weeks into the season."

Matheny cautioned that pitching in short stints in the final weeks of spring training doesn't eliminate the possibility of starting.

"That length, it's not like it goes away," Matheny said. "That's what you build off of. You get them up to 55 pitches and then you back them down to see them in a short stint. You still build off that 55 as you're growing them. And you're talking about having a couple weeks after we leave where you could easily get them where they're ready for 100 because that base has already been set. So we're just leaving options and flexibility."

Junis' next outing will be four innings.

Short outing for Lynch

Lynch, the Royals' top pitching prospect, allowed one run on three hits in two innings. He didn't walk a batter and struck out one.

Lynch took a ball off the back when Upton's broken-bat liner came back up the middle to start the second. Lynch shook it off quickly and remained in the game. He got Pujols to pop up and then Jose Iglesias flew out to right field.

However with two outs, Lynch allowed Upton to get a great jump and steal second base, which put him in scoring position. Kurt Suzuki smacked a single into left field, and Upton beat the throw to the plate from Andrew Benintendi to tie the score 1-1.

"I thought he threw the ball pretty good," Matheny said of Lynch. "That's a good lineup he faced today."

On the "B" side

While the Royals played the Angels, another group of Royals players had a "B" game back in Surprise. Right-hander Brady Singer allowed two runs on six hits (one home run) and two walks in five innings. He also struck out two.

Because it was not an official game, the rules were relaxed. He had one inning "rolled" with one out. He also got four outs in the fifth inning.