Royals' Josh Staumont bounces back after COVID bout

Lynn Worthy
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Josh Staumont throws against the Chicago White Sox earlier this season. [AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh]

Kansas City Royals right-handed relief pitcher Josh Staumont came out the other side from the frustration and uncertainty of an unusually trying winter and emerged "thankful."

Despite a nasty bout with COVID-19 in February that rocked his immune system, caused him to lose weight, temporarily robbed him of his strength and stamina, and derailed his workload ramp-up on the verge of spring training, Staumont still proved himself worthy of a spot on the Royals' Opening Day roster.

While working his way back physically, the 27-year-old California native has remained an important piece of the bullpen puzzle being put together daily by Royals manager Mike Matheny and his coaching staff.

"I've been super-thankful for how they've kind of handled me coming into this season," Staumont said. "I didn't get the traditional spring training baptism. So I'm kind of getting back into it. (They're) allowing me to get my feet under me."

Staumont pitched a scoreless eighth inning and retired the side in order on 10 pitches during Sunday's series-clinching win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium.

With the Royals looking for a shutdown inning after having broken a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh inning, Staumont sat down the top of the Blue Jays batting order — leadoff hitter Marcus Semien, No. 2 hitter Bo Bichette and power-hitting phenom and No. 3 hitter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — in short order. Sunday's outing marked the second of back-to-back stellar outings against the Blue Jays.

Saturday, Matheny called upon Staumont in the second game of their doubleheader. Staumont pitched the sixth inning of the seven-inning game, and he blanked a middle of the Blue Jays lineup that featured Guerrero, Rowdy Tellez and Lourdes Gurriel on the way to the Royals' 3-2 walk-off win.

In the past, Staumont's effectiveness pitching on back-to-back days has wavered.

"I think something has been made out of that in the past," Matheny said. "To be able to check that off — not only did he throw back-to-back, but he threw (an inning) yesterday and comes back and goes right through the meat of that order — it's a big deal."

Less than a week earlier, the Royals placed Staumont on the injured list without an injury designation. He returned one day later and pitched in Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Last season and this season because of the ongoing pandemic, MLB allowed teams the leeway to place players on the IL for COVID-related reasons and activate them in fewer than the standard 10 days required under normal circumstances. However, teams cannot announce the details of a player's medical circumstances related to COVID-19 unless the player has given permission.

On Sunday, Staumont explained the one-day IL stint.

"As these vaccines come out, typically the first one for somebody who has had coronavirus, like I did, is a little tougher on you," Staumont said. "Man, it just knocked me down. Didn't sleep, pretty bad fever, so we just shut it down for that day.

"I've been so thankful for how they're handling it, handling this whole COVID-19 going back to last year. ... It impacted us a ton. I'm forever thankful for how the Royals have handled it, especially my specific case because I seem to have a little bit of an issue with the COVID-19 virus. As I get vaccinated, we'll be all guns blazing."

Last season, Staumont's four-seam fastball averaged 98 mph (fourth-best in MLB). During the pandemic-shortened 60-game season, he appeared in 26 games and registered a 2.45 ERA with 37 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.40 WHIP in 25 2/3 innings.

This year, he got a late start to spring training this season as he recovered from COVID-19. While he did pitch in Cactus League games, he didn't have the normal continuous and steady build up through the offseason through spring training and into the regular season.

However in six games this season, Staumont hasn't allowed a run. He has allowed just two hits and opponents have batted .086 against him. He has posted a WHIP of 0.39 with four strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. So far this season, his fastball has averaged 97.1 mph.

Staumont said he expects his outings will only get even better as he goes and continues his build up as the season goes.

"I'm thankful that they trust me to do that," Staumont said. "Moving forward, we're ready. We're feeling good too."