Musser thriving in new relief role

Musser thriving in new relief role

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Neal Musser has been a career Minor Leaguer as a starter. Musser could be in the Major Leagues this year as a reliever.

Musser made just one relief appearance in his first seven years in the Minors, but the Royals moved him to the bullpen last season and he thrived. That could be his niche.

"I think it fits my personality well," Musser said. "I can go in and be aggressive and attack. I don't have to hold anything back on the hitters. I can just go right after them. I really enjoy it. For the last couple of years, I wanted to try it out and the Royals gave the opportunity. I'm just taking it and trying to run with it."

Musser's velocity also steadily picked up when he was used in relief.

"It really helps out," Musser said.

Musser, who was a 1999 second-round draft choice of the Mets, started last season as a non-roster invitee with the Diamondbacks. He began the season with Triple-A Tucson, but was released after going 1-3 with a 5.45 ERA in eight games.

"It was the first time it ever happened to me," Musser said of his release. "I was kind of caught off guard. You get kind of set back by it. Like whoa, it can happen that quick and that easy. You never think it will happen to you until it actually happens. It gives you a little extra fire to make sure it never happens again.

"It is a baseball move that teams have to make and I was the odd man out. I didn't for one second think that was it. I knew teams were always looking for pitchers, and luckily for me the Royals gave me an opportunity and I appreciate it."

The Royals signed Musser on May 24 and assigned him to Triple-A Omaha, where he went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in two starts. They moved him to Double-A Wichita, where he went 6-3 with a 4.95 ERA and two saves in 18 games, seven of them in relief.

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They sent Musser, a 26-year-old left-hander, to the Arizona Fall League, where he was 0-2 with a 2.61 ERA, but opened eyes with 18 strikeouts and just two walks in 20 2/3 innings. The Royals, who feared they would lose him in the Rule 5 Draft, placed him on the 40-man roster after his impressive AFL season.

"That league, if you do well, can open a lot of doors for you," Musser said.

Musser said he focused on getting ahead in the count and attacking hitters.

"It helped me cut down on my walks," Musser said. "I found myself ahead in counts and it just made my stuff a whole lot better. I went right after them and I think I had the hitters on their heels."

Musser, who went to Benton Central High School in Oxford, Ind., turned down a baseball scholarship to sign with the Mets. He throws a fastball, curve, slider and changeup.

The Royals will likely keep left-handed relievers Jimmy Gobble and John Bale, but Bale has been out with a sore arm after three appearances.

"You look at who is under contract and what your chances are," Musser said. "You've got to compete and win a job."

Alan Eskew is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.