This winter, Mike Minor signed on for the role of broad-shouldered veteran pitcher, experienced and capable of carrying an over-sized burden for the Kansas City Royals pitching staff.
One month into the season, the left-hander doesn’t feel as though he’s shouldered enough of the load. He wants to eat up innings and go deep into games every night. Anything less sticks in his craw.
While still not fully satisfied with his performance, Minor did see encouraging signs in his last outing against the Cleveland Indians.
He’ll take the ball for the series finale against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, the last game before the Royals head back out on the road next week.
“I feel like in my other games I was throwing a lot of sliders and curveballs trying to get strikeouts and swing-and-misses,” Minor said after pitching 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday night. “Really, it looks all sexy and everything. But when you don’t go deep in games (it’s not).”
Minor (2-1, 5.23 ERA) has gone into the sixth inning in four of his six starts so far this season. He pitched six full innings in his first start of the season against the Texas Rangers on April 3.
While he described his latest start as “encouraging,” he remained adamant that going six innings isn’t enough for him. He wants to regularly pitch seven, eight, or nine.
“I still didn’t go deep tonight, but I feel like I did a better job,” Minor said on Tuesday. “I feel like it was something to build off of. I’d rather just go deep in games and help the bullpen, help the team. Give them a chance to win. Get that soft contact rather than a bunch of swing-and-misses and strikeouts.”
So far this season through six starts, Danny Duffy has been the innings eater with a 35 2/3 innings. Minor’s 31 innings rank second for KC.
Minor dealt with inconsistency during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season after the interruption to spring training. He went 1-6 in 12 games (11 starts) with a 5.56 ERA, 62 strikeouts, a 1.24 WHIP and a .230 opponent’s batting average in 56 2/3 innings.
In 2018 and 2019, Minor made 60 starts with a 26-18 record and 3.84 ERA in 365 1/3 innings, recording 332 strikeouts, a 1.19 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He earned an American League All-Star selection in 2019. That season, he made 16 quality starts and recorded a career-best 14 wins in 32 starts.
Since signing with the Royals this winter, Minor has embraced the idea of being the workhorse of the staff, especially with a rotation featuring young starting pitchers like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch and even a relatively-inexperienced Brad Keller (one full MLB season as a starter).
Asked about the bullpen having had some recent hiccups, Minor pointed to the starters and himself in particular as the ones who need to do more.
“Anytime those guys go out there, you feel like they’re just going to put up a bunch of zeros,” Minor said of the bullpen. “But I feel like the starting staff — me especially — needs to do a better job and give those guys a break. I feel like those guys have been going a lot of back-to-backs, throwing multiple innings, and they’re asking those guys to do a lot.”
Minor has pitched 200 innings in a season twice during his major-league career.
Royals manager Mike Matheny downplayed the idea of the club needing Minor to go seven to nine innings each time out, and Matheny didn’t think the length Minor had provided should be overlooked.
“I think what Mike’s (idea of) length looks like — seven, eight every single time out — I like it, but there are some times when he’s going to need to try and get a punch-out for us in a big situation,” Matheny said. “I think he’s been doing a good job of both getting the groundballs, getting the double plays, getting some early pop-ups and then getting the strikeouts when they’re there.”
While Matheny certainly understands Minor’s desire to pile up innings for this pitching staff, take pressure off the bullpen. At the same time, Matheny isn’t obliged to leave Minor on an island in a tight spot if the bullpen might be the best option.
“From the very first conversation I had with him when we signed him, it was ‘I want to eat up innings for you. I want to throw a lot,’” Matheny said. “That’s admirable. We’d love to say we could just let him go as long as he wants every game. But when we’ve got some messes that we need to get through, we’re going to try to get him help.
“I’ve already seen him (eat up innings), maybe just not exactly how he wants it to look quite yet. But I see it heading in that direction for sure.”