04/01/2004 7:53 PM ET
Notes: Pena opens with four lefties
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The season has yet to begin, but the Royals already are in position to make Major League history.
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
If things go as planned, the Royals will become the first club ever to start a left-handed pitcher in each of the first four games of a season.
Jimmy Gobble, scheduled to face the Cleveland Indians next Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, will be the fourth lefty out of the chute. He'll follow Brian Anderson and Darrell May, who are to face the Chicago White Sox, and Jeremy Affeldt, who'll open the Indians series.
Manager Tony Pena's four-man rotation had been set pending Gobble's ability to get past a mild abdominal strain. Gobble has been declared ready.
"It'll be awesome, I guess," Gobble said, "but, hopefully, once everything is said and done, you can just go out there and compete and do your job."
Research by Stats, Inc., uncovered the oddity.
"Like Tony said today, it's just something that nobody has ever seen, so you've got to try it," Gobble said. "Really, I don't even know what to say about it. I just hope it works."
May, Affeldt and Gobble will pitch in a two-game exhibition series against the Astros this weekend in Houston.
In the Arizona phase of the games, the four lefties combined for a 4-2 record with a 4.42 ERA. Gobble was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA.
"Hopefully, in four-game series," May said, "it won't get too monotonous seeing that one guy looks alike, the next guy looks alike -- although Affeldt doesn't throw as hard as the rest of us," May said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Affeldt, of course, is the one with the blazing fastball.
"Technically," May said wryly as Affeldt walked by, "we're three left-handers and Affeldt."
STATS, Inc., also turned up the information that -- dating back to 1920 -- just seven clubs had four left-handers start in their first five games.
Leaning to the left, though, did not exactly portend a successful season. Just three of those teams wound up with winning records.
Two of them finished first -- the 1964 New York Yankees, who used lefties Bob Meyer, Al Downing, Bud Daley and Whitey Ford in their first five games, and last year's Oakland A's, who used John Halama, Ted Lilly, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder.
The 1983 Yankees (Bob Shirley, Ron Guidry, Shane Rawley, Dave Righetti) were 20 games above .500, but finished third.
The losing clubs: 1983 Minnesota Twins (Brad Havens, Jack O'Connor, Frank Viola, Bryan Oelkers); 1989 Yankees (John Candelaria, Dave LaPoint, Tommy John, Al Leiter); 1995 St. Louis Cardinals (Danny Jackson, Donovan Osborne, Tom Urbani, Allen Watson); 1999 Milwaukee Brewers (Jim Abbott, Scott Karl, Bill Pulsipher, Rafael Roque).
Just in case you wondered.
Now the Royals are ready to be the first with four in a row.
"It's pretty cool," Gobble said.
Thompson escapes injury: Outfielder Rich Thompson, who'd just been told he was on a Major League roster for the first time, had a little scare Thursday against the A's. He ducked under a high pitch from Mulder and the ball smacked into his left index finger. Whew! It was just a bruise. "It hit my finger on the bat," Thompson said. "It's fine."
Swindell might retire: Left-hander Greg Swindell, one of the Royals' last cuts, is considering retirement. He gave up one run, but pitched just seven innings because of a groin injury.
"My agent is asking around, but the rosters are set," he said.
If Swindell does retire, it will be the end of a long career that began with the Cleveland Indians.
"The boat is tilting that way, like the Titanic," he said.
"I'm happy with it. I came here to show I could pitch," he continued. "If it worked, I could leave with a clear mind."
Swindell lost his bid for a left-handed relief job to Dennys Reyes.
Pitchers left behind: When the Royals left for Houston, starter Kevin Appier and closer Mike MacDougal remained in Arizona. Appier is continuing rehab after elbow surgery and MacDougal is recovering from a loss of strength caused by a stomach ailment.
"Both are doing well," trainer Nick Swartz said.
Appier will build his pitch counts in games at the training complex and is expected to be up to 80 pitches by April 12, when he's scheduled to pitch for Class AA Wichita. He might be ready to face the Twins on April 17.
"That's what we're shooting for," Swartz said. "The biggest thing is how does he respond after each outing."
Swartz said the earliest that MacDougal could pitch one inning in a game would be next Wednesday. Then he'll pitch every other day.
"The biggest thing with Mac is his health is back, his physical strength is back," Swartz said. "We're working on building his arm strength. Basically he starts Spring Training now."
That suggests that MacDougal might miss three weeks or more of the season. No date has been forecast for his return.
Wal-Mart Cup: The Royals and the Astros will once again compete for the mythical Wal-Mart Cup this weekend in Houston. Royals owner David Glass is a former CEO of Wal-Mart, and Astros owner Drayton McLane is a stockholder. At 7:05 p.m. CT on Friday, May will be opposed by Astros right-hander Jared Fernandez. At 1:05 p.m. CT on Saturday, Affeldt will be matched against right-hander Wade Miller.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.