The Royals announced Wednesday that they’ve optioned right-hander Jakob Junis to their alternate training site and placed Matt Harvey on the injured list due to a lat strain. Righty Scott Blewett and infielder Erick Mejia are up from the alternate site in place of Junis and Harvey.
For Junis, who turns 28 today, this move represents the latest step in a downward trajectory over the past two seasons. He looked to have emerged as a serviceable innings eater for Kansas City in 2017-18, when he tossed 275 1/3 innings over 46 starts, averaging 8.0 strikeouts, 2.2 walks and 1.54 homers per nine innings along the way.
However, Junis was rocked for a 5.24 ERA last season, and the 2020 campaign has been nightmarish. He has yet to complete five innings in any of his six starts this year, and he’s surrendered at least two runs in each of those outings. Overall, he’s sitting on a 6.94 ERA and a similarly grisly 6.76 FIP. He’s falling behind hitters more regularly (57 percent first-pitch strike rate compared to 62.7 in 2018) and has already served up seven long balls on the year.
Junis will need to stay down at the alternate site for 10 days unless he’s recalled in place of someone who is going on the injured list, so it’s quite possible that this move effectively ends his 2020 season. He’s already crossed the three-year threshold in terms of Major League service time this year, meaning he’ll be eligible for arbitration this winter. Given his 5.44 ERA and 5.05 FIP over his past 37 MLB starts and 198 2/3 innings, Junis isn’t a lock to be tendered a contract this winter.
Harvey, too, seems likely to be done for the year in the wake of this injury. While there’s no official word on the severity of the strain, a lat strain typically isn’t something from which a pitcher returns in the minimum 10-day allotment. The former Mets ace had hoped this latest comeback attempt would prove more fruitful than previous efforts, but Harvey turned in his worst numbers to date at the MLB level. He managed just 11 2/3 innings between four starts and three relief outings, yielding 15 runs on 27 hits and five walks with 10 strikeouts along the way. Harvey served up six dingers in that stretch.
If there’s a small silver lining, Harvey’s 94.5 mph average fastball was up from recent years, but it’s still shy of the 96-97 mph he averaged at his brief but dominant peak. Unfortunately for Harvey, injuries have decimated what looked to be one of the most promising young arms in the game earlier last decade. The former No. 7 overall pick logged a brilliant 2.53 ERA and 2.65 FIP through his first 427 Major League innings — plus another 26 2/3 frames of 3.02 ERA ball in the playoffs — but he’s undergone both Tommy John and thoracic outlet surgery. Few pitchers have had successful returns from a TOS procedure, and battling back from both of those major operations is an even more daunting task.