There is no “normal” to the 2020 MLB season. But right-hander Jakob Junis of the Royals feels like things are returning to normal … sort of.
“Normal body soreness, normal arm soreness,” he told reporters when asked about how he felt after making his season debut last Sunday against the Chicago White Sox.
Now, he’ll look to break his “normal” when it comes to the Minnesota Twins, whom the Royals host for the first of a three-game series Friday — and against whom Junis has yet to earn a victory.
“I know that this season so far we haven’t had a solid rotation,” Junis added. “It’s kind of been by committee. But having Brad (Keller) back, myself back, Danny (Duffy), Brady (Singer) and Kris (Bubic), it’s a pretty solid five. It looks like we have something to look forward to with a five-day rotation.”
Junis (0-0, 4.15 ERA) missed the first week of the season after starting the season on the injured list as he recovered from COVID-19. Projected Opening Day starter Keller made his season debut Thursday in a 13-2 win over the Cubs after a delay similar to that of Junis. Singer and Bubic both made their MLB debuts this season.
Junis hopes that continuity will pay off.
“I think it’s good,” he said. “I hope we can get in a rhythm and string some good starts together and get some wins.”
Junis is 0-1 with a 4.28 ERA in seven career starts against the Twins. He has 40 strikeouts and 16 walks in 33 2/3 innings.
The Royals need some wins heading into this series. Their win Thursday ended a six-game losing streak, and in a short season, runs like those can prove catastrophic.
“Frustration,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said about what he saw in his team during the streak. “That’s the way it should be. The day we’re good with losing a bunch of games in a row is the day we ought to hand our jerseys in. It’s our job to figure out ways to win games.
“We’ve just got to keep preaching the process and making sure our minds never go in that direction.”
The Twins have had no trouble with continuity. Despite blowing a ninth-inning lead against the Pittsburgh Pirates to end their six-game winning streak Thursday, the Twins still own half-game lead on the New York Yankees for the best record in the American League.
They’re one of the highest-scoring teams in the AL, averaging more than 5.2 runs per game. They also have one of baseball’s best pitching staffs; their 2.97 ERA is second in the AL and fourth in MLB, despite having three-fifths of their expected starting rotation currently on the injured list.
Left-hander Rich Hill went on the 10-day IL Tuesday with shoulder fatigue, joining righties Homer Bailey (right biceps tendinitis) and Jake Odorizzi (right intercostal strain) — the latter is expected to make his season debut Saturday against the Royals.
Lefty Devin Smeltzer (1-0, 11.57) will take the mound for Rocco Baldelli’s squad Friday. It will be his third appearance of 2020, but his first start. He had his best start of 2019 against the Royals, when he allowed two harmless singles in six scoreless innings.
Smeltzer believes he belongs in the rotation.
“Before we got sent home, (pitching coach) Wes (Johnson) had a little analogy — you never can put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Smeltzer said during summer camp. “He said, ‘We don’t know how long this (shut down) will be, but this might be the only time in your career when you can go home and really work on yourself and get better.’
“I went home and took care of business. I really worked hard on the slider. I feel confident with it.”
–Field Level Media