SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals may open the season with Jimmy Gobble as the lone left-hander in the bullpen. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister are neck-and-neck for the No. 5 slot in the rotation with two weeks left before the club breaks camp. And Brandon Duckworth appears to be pitching his way onto the 12-man staff. John Bale, who was being counted on as another lefty reliever after pitching the past three years in Japan, has a shoulder strain, an MRI revealed.
"We're pretty confident that he will not start with us," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "He probably won't throw at the earliest for 10 days, so he'll probably start [the season] on the disabled list." Bell said it was similar to the injury, which is in his back and under the shoulder, which Mike MacDougal suffered last March that kept him out until June. "It is not as severe," Bell said. "We don't think it will be that long. It's a strain and MacDougal's was a tear." The Royals optioned left-hander Neal Musser to Triple-A Omaha on Thursday. Bell said he doesn't "feel a need" to have two left-handers in the 'pen. "We would like to have two left-handers, but we're going to take the best pitchers," Bell said. "We're going to look for a right-hander that can consistently get a left-hander out, too. That is something we are focusing in on right now, whether that is [Joel] Peralta, [Joakim] Soria, [Todd] Wellemeyer, whoever. We're trying to find who can get a left-hander out, so we don't have to match up every inning late." Musser gave up a home run to Garret Anderson, an Angels left-handed hitter, in his previous outing. "We want to see how effective he is against left-handers," Bell said. "Because of the decisions we have to make up here, we're just not going to have the innings for him." Jorge De La Rosa, who is also left-handed, has done nothing to dispel his chances of being the No. 4 starter -- he gave up two runs on three hits, walked none and struck out three over four innings in the Royals' 7-6 victory over the Giants on Thursday.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.