Around the Horn: Starting pitchers

Around the Horn: Starting pitchers

Following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position-by-position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Starting pitchers.

KANSAS CITY -- One thing is for certain. The Royals aren't bringing Scott Elarton, Mark Redman and Joe Mays in for tryouts among the Arizona cactus.

In the first installment of a seven-week series titled "Around the Horn," MLB.com dissects what fans can expect from their teams' starting pitchers in 2006 and beyond.

And those three new acquisitions are fully expected to be in the reconfiguration of the Royals' rotation next season.

"Elarton is a lock in the rotation," general manager Allard Baird said. "He's an innings guy and that's what we're looking for from him. Makeup-wise, the way he goes about his business, he's a good tone-setter for a lot of our kids."

Signed as a free agent after an 11-9 record in 31 starts for the Cleveland Indians, Elarton has the kind of stuff that could put him at the head of the rotation.

Before arm problems shackled him, Elarton had a 17-7 record for the Houston Astros in 2000. Last year, at 29, he showed signs of regaining that stature.

Last season he struck out 103 and walked just 48 in his 181 2/3 innings. Although he gave up 32 home runs, working at more spacious Kauffman Stadium should help him.

"Obviously, he's a fly-ball pitcher and our ballpark is a little bit more conducive for him," Baird said.

Redman, a left-hander obtained in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a different type of pitcher than Elarton.

"Redman will be in the rotation for us," Baird said. "Last year he did a very good job of creating ground-ball outs, and that's a nice fit for our infield."

Last season Redman, 32, was just 5-15 for the Pirates in 30 starts. But he won 25 games the previous two years for the Florida Marlins and the Oakland A's.

Mays, after a 6-10 record for the Minnesota Twins, did not get a he's-in-there endorsement from Baird. Mays, 30, missed all of the 2004 season because of elbow surgery.

"Joe Mays comes in with a chance to be one of those five," Baird said. "He's a ground-ball pitcher with a very good sinker. That's his strength, and he throws the ball over the plate -- which matches up with an infield very well."

The Royals' top holdover candidates are Zack Greinke and Runelvys Hernandez.

Greinke, a rookie darling in 2004, had some ugly turns during his first full season in which he was 5-17 and led the American League in losses.

"You have to break it up in parts," Baird said. "The first five starts he got the lowest run support in the American League -- I'm not sure but it might have been the Major Leagues -- and then toward the end he threw the ball better. But you have to keep in mind that all of a sudden his stuff has jumped up a full grade and just for him to have the kinesthetic feel and the touch while also making the adjustment to the league makes me very high on him and I will continue to be."

Hernandez missed nearly a month because of a 10-game suspension after a fight in Detroit and a battle with a back sprain. When he returned to make four starts in September, he was 0-3 with a 9.33 ERA.

Kansas City Royals
Starters: Rotation feels different
Bullpen: Young but talented
Catchers: Buck top backstop
Corner IF: Matter of extremes
Middle IF: "Grud" should help Berroa
Outfielders: Brown, DeJesus join in
DH/Bench: Good in a pinch

All of which will make Surprise a reproving ground for him after coming back from elbow surgery and missing all of 2004.

"He's got to come in in shape and compete for a job," Baird said.

Hernandez's weight has been a problem for him.

He'll get competition from left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who'll get a chance to start after spending all of last season in the bullpen. Affeldt was the closer until a strained left groin struck.

Affeldt has made 33 starts in his Royals career.

Another lefty, J.P. Howell, might benefit from another season in the Minor Leagues. Showing great movement on his pitches, Howell was 3-5 in 15 starts as a rookie.

Denny Bautista, also figured as part of the Royals' long-term future, was shut down by shoulder problems after seven starts last season. He'll get a starting shot but might wind up in the bullpen.

Mike Wood, who was shifted from the 'pen to the rotation, made 10 starts in the last two months. He'll get a chance to retain his starting role.

Also in the competitive mix will be Jimmy Gobble, a lefty who has not fulfilled his potential and spent most of 2005 in long relief. Bobby Madritsch, claimed on waivers from the Seattle Mariners, had surgery and won't be ready until midseason.

Gone from last year's rotation are D.J. Carrasco, who'll be pitching in Japan, and Jose Lima, who is a free agent.

But Baird is counting on his starters, notably Elarton and Redman, eating a lot of innings to put his talented young bullpen on a leaner diet.

"We want these guys to get to the back end of the bullpen," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.