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Brandon Finnegan could be the Reliever the Royals Need

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Sep 6, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan (27) pitches during the sixth inning of a game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees defeated the Royals 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Kansas City Royals bullpen posted the best ERA (2.55) since 1990—because pretty much every reliever on the staff produced quality innings. There really wasn’t a bad option. But, this season, manager Ned Yost has been searching for effective innings from players not named Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland.

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Yost might have found his solution in 21-year-old rookie  Brandon Finnegan, who was pitching for Texas Christian University this spring.

While the Herrera, Davis, and Holland trio has regularly paved a Yellow Brick Road to victory when the Royals hold a lead after 6 innings, the rest of the pen has struggled to keep games close. Since Yost tries to save his golden boys for games where the Royals hold a late lead, the Royals have had problems staying in games when they fall behind in the mid-to-late innings and have to rely on the lesser lights in the pen.

We saw this problem August 30 when Yost elected to go with Scott Downs over Jason Frasor in a 1-1 game against Cleveland in the 11th inning. Downs proceeded to give up at triple and a double before Yost realized his mistake and summoned Frasor, who could not quench the rally. The Indians plated both runs to win 3-2.

On that day, Yost options were limited because Herrera, Davis, and Holland had already pitched. Bruce Chen had just been designed-for-assignment the day before after he allowed 6 runs in the 11th inning against Minnesota on August 28th, Aaron Crow and Casey Coleman were in the minors, while Francisely Bueno had given up 2 runs the night before.

Enter rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan.

GM Dayton Moore brought up the 21-year-old Finnegan, who had been the Royals 1st round draft pick in June, when rosters expanded September 1. Finnegan made High A Wilmingon and AA Northwest Arkansas look just as easy as pitching for TCU. In 27 minor-league innings, Finnegan fashioned a nifty 1.33 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Even more impressive was Finnegan’s command. He only walked 4 batters while keeping his pitches on the edge of the strike zone.

While Finnegan projects as a starter long-term, Dayton Moore brought him up to bolster his bullpen during the stretch run.

It looks like a brilliant decision.

On Saturday, Brandon Finnegan debuted in New York, and made facing the Yankees look as easy as college ball. In 2 innings of work, Finnegan did not allow either a hit or a walk, while striking out 2—including ringing up Derek Jeter to finish his  1st inning of big league work. He showed a live fastball, a darting slider, and a serviceable change-up.

Two out pitches with a decent 3rd offering is easily good enough to excel as a reliever, especially from the left side.

More importantly, Finnegan shut down a Yankee offense that had plated 6 runs in 5 innings. While the Royals offense failed to mount a comeback, Finnegan gave them a chance to get back in the game.

Finnegan might be just what the Royals pen needed: an alternative to Herrera, Davis, and Holland able to keep the team in games they trail. If Finnegan can help the team steal a game by keeping it close in the middle innings, it might just be the difference between playing into October and watching the playoffs on television.

With Danny Duffy leaving Saturday’s game with a sore shoulder, the Royals might need all the pitching help they can get.