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Royals hopeful right-hander can return to rotation soon

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The Royals have been without right-hander Alec Marsh for just over a week now, but manager Matt Quatraro told reporters yesterday, including MLB.com’s Anne Rogers, that even though Marsh is expected to throw just 60-65 pitches in a rehab start today, the team is hopeful he’ll be able to return to the big league rotation after just one rehab appearance assuming today’s outing goes well.

That timeline would put Marsh, 26 later this month, in line for a minimum stay on the injured list and line him up to take the ball in Anaheim against the Angels on Friday. If the righty is able to return after a minimum stint, it would provide a huge boost to the Royals as they look to capitalize on a hot start that has seen them go 20-14 to this point in the season, putting them just 1.5 games behind the Guardians for the AL Central lead.

Prior to his placement on the shelf due to an elbow contusion late last month, Marsh had been a big part of the club’s success. Through five starts this season, the right-hander sports a sterling 2.70 ERA and a 3.26 FIP in spite of a lackluster 15.9% strikeout rate.

While he’s posted a strong 6.5% walk rate to this point in the season, the youngster’s .235 BABIP allowed and minuscule 3.2% home run/fly ball ratio both suggest that regression could be on the way for him, as do his 4.66 xERA and 4.39 xFIP. 

Even in the event that Marsh’s results regress back to that of a mid-to-back of the rotation arm, however, it would still be a substantial improvement over his rookie campaign. Marsh struggled badly in 74 1/3 innings of work in the majors last year, posting a 5.69 ERA with a near-matching 5.70 FIP despite a 24.9% strikeout rate.

While Marsh prepares for his return to the big leagues, the Royals announced today that they’ve recalled left-hander Daniel Lynch IV, optioning right-hander Colin Selby to make room for Lynch on the active roster. Jaylon T. Thompson of the Kansas City Star relayed last night that Lynch was slated to start Sunday’s game against the Rangers. 

Lynch, 27, was once a consensus top-30 prospect in the sport but has struggled at the big league level to this point in his career, with a 5.19 ERA and 4.79 FIP in 252 innings of work across 51 starts dating back to his debut during the 2021 season. Those numbers include nine starts at the big league level last year where he posted a 4.64 ERA and 5.17 FIP amid rotator cuff and shoulder issues.

Lynch returned to action during Spring Training but ultimately lost out on the fifth starter role in Kansas City to Marsh, leaving him relegated to the Triple-A level to open the season. He’s struggled badly through six starts at the level this season, posting a 5.86 ERA in 27 2/3 innings of work while striking out just 17.3% of batters faced. 

Nonetheless, the Royals will turn to him for Sunday’s start, where he’ll take on the tough assignment of facing the reigning World Series champion Rangers.

Marsh isn’t the only pitcher who’s making progress in their attempt to return from the injured list. Per MLB.com’s Injury Tracker, right-hander Carlos Hernandez is beginning to ramp up his activity during a rehab assignment at the Triple-A level after missing the start of the season due to a shoulder impingement. 

The Royals have mostly enjoyed steady production from their bullpen this season thanks to veteran additions such as John Schreiber, Tyler Duffy, and Nick Anderson, but righty Matt Sauer has struggled badly in a long relief role to this point in the season, and the healthy return of Hernandez, who struck out 25.7% of batters faced last year en route to a solid 4.28 FIP, could offer Kansas City a more reliable option for length out of the bullpen.

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