Royals’ Matheny: Roster limits subjecting our guys to injury

Kansas City Royals pitcher Jose Cuas (74) walks off the mound after handing the ball to manager Mike Matheny, middle, ace catcher Salvador Perez watches during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Kansas City Royals pitcher Jose Cuas (74) walks off the mound after handing the ball to manager Mike Matheny, middle, ace catcher Salvador Perez watches during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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The change has been coming for a while. Major League Baseball delayed it multiple times, but eventually the league was going to restrict teams to no more than 13 pitchers on their 26-man roster.

Even with the forewarning, the restrictions went over like a lead balloon with Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny.

MLB had planned to enforce the 13-pitcher roster limit in 2020 prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The Players Association and MLB agreed to adjust roster sizes and rules for the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020 as well as last season, the first full-length season after the pandemic and coming off of an entire season without Minor League Baseball.

This year, teams dealt with a condensed spring training coming off the MLB lockout that carried into March.

However, MLB announced intentions to impose the 13-pitcher limit. The date was pushed back twice from May 2 to May 30, then from May 30 to June 20.

Matheny voiced his concern that the restriction could prove detrimental to pitchers’ health.

“It’s just subjecting our guys to injury,” Matheny said. “Then they limit our number of times we can send guys down too. I know what they’re doing, but it doesn’t make sense in application to what we’re trying to do throughout the season to protect these guys. I hope I’m one of 30 (managers) saying the exact same thing today.”

Matheny alluded to another collectively bargained rule restricting the number of times a player can be optioned to the minors to five per season.

“I’m always in support of our leadership in the game, but I don’t agree with this one at all,” Matheny said.

The Royals had gone with 14 pitchers and 12 position players, leaving three bench players, for most of the season. Monday, they optioned relief pitcher Matt Peacock to the minors and reinstated catcher Cam Gallagher from the injured list to get to 13 pitchers.

While Matheny made sure to start off by saying he was glad to have Gallagher back, he also stressed the potential ramifications to pitching staffs with fewer bullpen options available.

“Every team is going to be a little different too,” Matheny said. “If you’ve got a team with a staff full of guys who’ve pitched 200 innings in their career and you know they’re just horses and they just go, and they average six plus (innings) every time they walk out there , it’s a different conversation.”

The Royals’ current starting rotation, not including 19-year veteran Zack Greinke, who is on the IL, has a high prevalence of young and inexperienced pitchers.

The most experienced of the group, 26-year-old Brad Keller, hasn’t reached 170 innings in any season of his career and has not made 30 starts in a season.

Brady Singer spent last season in the major-league rotation, but he spent time on the injured list due to shoulder fatigue. Singer didn’t surpass 200 total innings in the majors until this season.

Entering this week, the Royals got multiple starts of fewer than five innings from Heasley (two), Keller (three), Lynch (three) and Bubic (five). Carlos Hernandez also had six starts of fewer than five innings before he went down to Triple-A, and Greinke had three such starts.

Those outings all add to the workload of the bullpen.

“Shoot, I’d be all right, sometimes, having a two-man bench just so we can have coverage,” Matheny said. “I mean, it’s about not hurting guys. I don’t know. It’s just a shame. Each team is different. We’re setting ourselves up to win games, first. But hand in hand, we’re not going to win games at the sacrifice of hurting somebody.

“These rules really make it difficult to where you’re not putting it on somebody. You put on top of it that you can’t throw a position player, which I’m not crazy about anyhow, but you can’t do it unless you have a six-run spread. There’s a whole lot of things that — someone is just going to flat eat it. And it’s probably a guy that’s already overworked.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.

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