Josh Staumont growing into more pivotal role in Kansas City Royals' bullpen
The Kansas City Royals and manager Mike Matheny haven't abandoned the bullpen approach where high-leverage situations matter infinitely more than traditional roles. When armed with a fully healthy arsenal of relievers this season, they've continued to close games by committee.
However, it certainly looks like Josh Staumont has positioned himself as the committee chairman.
While the Royals (20-22) enter this weekend's series with the Detroit Tigers (17-26) with six relief pitchers with at least one save this season, Staumont's five saves are more than double his next closest teammate's total. Greg Holland has two saves.
That still doesn't mean Staumont will openly claim the mantle of "closer" or that Matheny will necessarily use him exclusively in end of game situations.
"I consider myself the team closer as in we are a team and we just close these games out together," Staumont said. "I don't think the titles are necessary at this point."
Staumont, 27, recorded his fifth save Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers. All five of his career saves have come this season.
Wednesday's outing marked his fifth appearance in seven games over eight days, including a save on Tuesday night. Answering the bell consistently and pitching on consecutive days are big indicators of Staumont's progress this season.
Opponents have enjoyed significantly more success against Staumont when he has pitched on no days rest. Opponents have posted a .326/.475/.565 slash line against Staumont in such situations (12 games, 59 plate appearances) with his strikeout-to-walk ratio down to 1.2-to-1.
Overall for his career, opponents have slashed .212/.331/.340 against him and he has posted a 2.03-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
However, Staumont has shown himself more reliable pitching on back-to-back days so far this season than in the past.
In five chances this season (21 plate appearances), he has held opposing hitters to a .211 batting average with a .286 OBP and a .316 slugging percentage. He has also struck out batters at a rate of 2.5 per walk.
"If I'm in the game and I'm throwing well and we're winning, there's very few complaints," Staumont said of his workload. "At the end of the day, we're all sleeping well.
"After the stretch we had with all these close games where we were dropping a few that just happened to coincide and lineup back-to-back, I just want to be there when we're ready to win the game. If my name is called and I'm in there, you bet I'll be giving it my all."
A bout with the coronavirus interrupted Staumont's offseason training on the verge of spring training camp. He lost weight, strength and went into the season still playing catch up.
He also had a brief one-day stint on the injured list earlier this season after an adverse initial reaction to the coronavirus vaccine.
At times this season, the right-hander known for having one of the highest-velocity fastballs in the majors has made due without the 100-mph "stuff" that has often overpowered hitters in the past.
Staumont's fastball topped out at 95.8 mph and dipped as low as 93.1 mph in wet conditions on Wednesday. So far this season, his four-seamer has averaged 96.8 mph.
Last season, Staumont's four-seam fastball averaged 98 mph (fourth-best in MLB).
"We're working. It's a long year, and we have a lot of time," Staumont said. "There's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be days — I threw five out of seven games — where you feel like you're getting kind of drug through the mud.
"But I could go five days without throwing now. And about two (days) in, I'm itching. I can't complain at one moment or the other."
Staumont admitted he's not as far along as he'd ideally like at this stage in the season, but he also said it gives him the opportunity to "grow."
"I think Josh feels like he has worked really hard and he has, while still figuring out a way to get it done," Matheny said. "That's a sign. That's that next step. He's never really been there. We're exposing him to different things all the time. Now, it's that consistent being ready in those leverage situations. Getting it done when you don't have your best stuff is a huge step."