Suppan returns to Royals on Minor League deal
Expected to provide depth, veteran to report to Triple-A Omaha
KANSAS CITY -- When the deal to return to the Kansas City Royals organization was being discussed, Jeff Suppan got to poking around in some old boxes of equipment.
"I have a pair of blue spikes from the Royals days," he said Monday afternoon from his California home.
Suppan can put on those old spikes because, after nine years, he's back with the Royals. Suppan, 36, signed a Minor League contract with Kansas City late Sunday night and will report to Triple-A Omaha, the Royals' top farm club, to be part of the Storm Chasers' rotation.
"I still feel I can pitch at the Major League level," he said. "So I'll go to Omaha, get the ball and we'll see what happens from there."
The move positions Suppan to be called up if the Royals need help and none of their young prospects are deemed ready to go. He's also expected to be a positive influence on the young pitchers, such as Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy, whom the Royals have been developing at Omaha.
"It's not like I'm going to mentor everybody, but I'm going down there and I'm sure that will happen," Suppan said. "And I have no problem with that, I enjoy that side of baseball. That's kind of how, as a veteran player, you give to the next generation. I think that's very important for players to do."
If and when the Major League club needs him, Suppan said he's willing to start or pitch in the bullpen, as he did for a time last year with Milwaukee.
"Absolutely," he said. "Last year I was actually fortunate to be in the bullpen and have Trevor Hoffman there, and he really did teach me a lot. I've always had great respect for everyone who pitched in the bullpen, but once I was in the bullpen, I had a lot more respect. It's a very challenging job."
Suppan pitched for Milwaukee in 2007 and 2008 when current Royals manager Ned Yost was the skipper of the Brewers.
"We've got young pitchers there [at Omaha] that could benefit from his experience, and obviously Ned has a comfort level with him," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.
Suppan trained with the San Francisco Giants this year, brought in as an insurance policy for the rotation, but all of the world champions' starters finished camp healthy and he was released from his Minor League contract. He had a 5.50 ERA in Cactus League play, although most of the runs he gave up occurred during the two days he was suffering from an illness.
"It's never been in my makeup not to take the ball, and I went out there and every pitch I was just losing my legs and just getting weaker and weaker," he said.
Suppan was plagued by neck problems early last year with Milwaukee and was released in early June. Subsequently signed by St. Louis, his health was better and he went 3-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 15 games (13 starts) for the Cardinals.
In a 16-year career that began in 1995 with the Boston Red Sox, he has a 138-143 record and a 4.69 ERA in 442 games. He's also pitched for Arizona, Pittsburgh and twice with Boston and St. Louis. He was in the postseason three times with the Cardinals and once with the Brewers.
Suppan was one of the Royals' top starters for four years -- from 1999 to 2002 -- and he won 10 games each in the first three years and nine in the fourth year. His Kansas City record was 39-51 in 138 games, 11 of which were complete games.
A workhorse, he pitched more than 200 innings in each of those four years. He made three Opening Day starts for the Royals and twice was named their Pitcher of the Year. Rarely did he miss a start.
"I remember one time at the All-Star break they let me fill out the back half of the rotation to give me a little break," he said. "But that was one of the things I took pride in -- I took the ball every five days."
When Suppan joins the Omaha club, his pitching coach will be Doug Henry, a teammate on the 2001 Royals.
The Royals gave Suppan no indication where he'll fit in the rotation for Omaha, which opens the season on Thursday at Albuquerque. He hoped to join the Storm Chasers for a workout on Tuesday in Omaha.
"I'm sure in a couple days they'll have a better idea," he said. "I threw about 18 innings this spring and the most I threw was four innings and maybe 65, 70 pitches. So I think I should be able to go and start."
Suppan made three rehabilitation starts in the Minors in the last two years, but the last time he spent sustained time in the bush leagues was in 1998, when he pitched for Triple-A Tucson.
The years might have taken a couple miles an hour off his fastball, but he feels that there is still good movement on his pitches -- sinker, slider, curve and changeup, the same repertoire he's always featured with good control.
"My goal is really to get ground balls," he said. "When you're that style of pitcher, you've got to be sure you're choosing the right pitch and you're locating in the area you want to go to. I try to stay down with movement."
Now he's off to Omaha and a new chapter in his career.
"Never a dull moment," Suppan said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.