"Kyle Farnsworth is competing for a job in the rotation," pitching coach Bob McClure revealed Wednesday.
That's right, the big right-hander will at least get a chance to show what he can do as a starter in Spring Training.
"We're going to lengthen him out and see how it goes," McClure said. "Because what he showed me last year was the ability to back off a little bit and not pitch with his hair on fire. And, to be a starter, you have to be able to just kind of go pitch-by-pitch."
A hard thrower, Farnsworth is also among the top three candidates to be the right-handed setup man for closer Joakim Soria, along with Roman Colon and Juan Cruz. But first, Farnsworth will be auditioned as a starter, something he hasn't done in the Major Leagues since 2000 with the Cubs.
Late last season, in addition to demonstrating he could pace himself and dial down the heat a bit, Farnsworth was also throwing an assortment of pitches that included two different fastballs, a slider and a curveball.
"Now he's throwing two types of fastballs [two-seam and four-seam], which I think is really going to help him," McClure said. "We had some comments from other teams going, 'When did he start doing that? He should have done that a long time ago.'"
Last season was Farnsworth's first with the Royals after he signed a two-year, $9.25 million contract with a club option for 2011. It was a bumpy season for him.
He got hammered on Opening Day -- nailed with the loss as the White Sox's Jim Thome hit a three-run homer. And he lost three of his first five outings with an 18.90 ERA. But Farnsworth followed that with 17 straight scoreless outings through June 10. Then he was out June 26 to Aug. 18 with a groin injury. In the end he was 1-5, 4.58 ERA in 41 games.
McClure thinks that Farnsworth, at 33, could make an easier transition from the bullpen to the rotation than New York's Joba Chamberlain, who is trying to become a Yankees starter at 24.
"Chamberlain is still in that mode where he's learning, so he's pitching like his hair's on fire, and it seems to me he's a little more suited for the 'pen at this point," McClure said.
"Farnsworth, to me, just went the opposite. He was able to start throwing 92, 93 [mph] and use some two-seamers to where we think it may be something to look at."
Farnsworth, selected in the 47th round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs, became a starter in his second pro year. When he reached the Majors in 1999, he started 21 times in 27 appearances. The next season, he started five times but was moved to the bullpen where he has remained ever since.
His record as a Cubs starter, way back when, was 6-11 with a 5.81 ERA in 26 games.
"He's got a really good arm, so you've got to stay away from injury. So we're going to be real cautious with him and see if he can take it pitch-by-pitch, step by step, because he definitely has the stuff to do it," McClure said.
Farnsworth isn't the only pitcher who might emerge from the Royals' bullpen. Robinson Tejeda, another imposing right-hander, will also get a shot at the rotation after making six starts last season.
They would have to wedge their way into a rotation that returns Zack Greinke, Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar.
In 2008, the Royals made an ill-fated try to bring left-hander John Bale from the bullpen to the rotation. He lost his first three starts and went on the disabled list with a fatigued shoulder.
Oh, and forget it if you're thinking about reviving the old question: Will the Royals consider moving Soria from closer to starter?
That's not going to happen.
"He could probably do it, but he's so valuable in the role that he's doing," McClure said. "You get me somebody who's going to save 30 to 40 games, and I'll try him as a starter."
What is going to happen is that Farnsworth, after a decade in the 'pen, will get a chance to be a starter.
"I've heard of crazier things tried, believe me. I don't think it's that far-fetched," McClure said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.