Notes: Duckworth named No. 5 starter
Bell selects veteran right-hander for final spot in rotation
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Brandon Duckworth will begin the season as the Royals' No. 5 starter, while rookie Ryan Braun earned a spot in the bullpen as the club made several roster moves on Wednesday.
Brian Bannister, who was acquired in a December trade with the Mets, was optioned to Triple-A Omaha, where he is penciled in as the Opening Day starter. Bannister, who was 0-1 with a 10.03 ERA in four Spring Training starts, was competing with Duckworth for the final rotation spot. Duckworth was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA in four March outings.
Duckworth, who had elbow surgery last August to remove bone chips, was 1-5 with a 6.11 ERA in 10 games, including eight starts, with the Royals in 2006. He was removed from the 40-man Major League roster in the offseason, but he signed a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training with the Royals.
"I'm happy for him," manager Buddy Bell said. "He was trying to make a decision over the winter whether to come back. Ducky came back here trusting he would have a chance to win a spot and did.
"We were looking for a fifth guy that throws strikes. He's been able to do it. He's a guy who has been there before and did a pretty decent job last year having a bad elbow."
Braun, a hard-throwing right-hander, went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in nine outings with Kansas City after a September promotion last season. He was 0-1 with a 1.04 ERA in eight Spring Training bullpen appearances.
"Braun is a little wild in the strike zone with good stuff," Bell said. "He is kind of effectively wild, but I think this kid has a chance to be pretty good. When he's good, he can throw a swing-and-miss breaking ball, but he's got to have more command of his fastball. We're going to try to manage through that, try to get him to the point he can get better at it. I think he deserves to be on our club. He pitched himself on the club."
Bell said his 12-man pitching staff is set. The bullpen also will consist of Joel Peralta, Todd Wellemeyer, Joakim Soria, Jimmy Gobble, David Riske and Octavio Dotel. The first four starters are Gil Meche, Odalis Perez, Zack Greinke and Jorge De La Rosa.
Among the roster moves, Kenny Ray was outrighted to Omaha, but he could elect free agency.
"That's his decision," Bell said. "I thought Kenny threw well the last two or three times. We'd like to keep him."
The Royals also assigned infielder Alex Gonzalez, who hit .444 this spring, to the Minors. Gonzalez, a 12-year Major League veteran who has started for the Blue Jays, Cubs and Devil Rays, however, has said in the past he would not report to Omaha.
In other moves, the Royals reassigned catcher Paul Phillips, infielder Fernando Cortez and right-handers Jason Standridge and Zach Day to the Minor League camp. All are expected to begin the season with Omaha.
The Royals also optioned outfielder Shane Costa, a second-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, to Omaha and placed infielder Angel Sanchez on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury.
The Royals also will place right-handers Luke Hudson, Leo Nunez and Scott Elarton and left-hander John Bale on the disabled list by Sunday. Elarton, who had shoulder surgery last August, threw an inning in a Minor League game on Wednesday and could return to the Kansas City rotation in May.
With the pitchers going on the disabled list, that leaves the Royals one player over the 25-man limit. Kansas City is carrying an extra outfielder. The Royals could trade Reggie Sanders or Emil Brown, which would open up a spot for Joey Gathright, who is hitting .370 but has an option left.
"I'm going to see how things develop the last couple of days until we make a decision on that last spot," Bell said.
Gload to open: Bell announced Ross Gload, who went 2-for-2 on Wednesday to hike his March average to .392, would start in left field in the season opener on Monday against Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling.
Bell plans to platoon Gload, who bats left-handed, and Brown, who has topped the club in RBIs the previous two seasons, in left. Gload also can play first base.
Grudzielanek's back: After playing the previous two days in Minor League games, Mark Grudzielanek started at second base in the 7-6 loss to the Padres. It was his first Major League game since having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on March 5. He played five innings, went 0-for-3 and made two assists.
"No problems, the knee feels good," Grudzielanek said. "I still have some lazy legs, so to speak. I'm comfortable. We've still have got a few more days. It is just a matter of getting at-bats and feeling a little bit better at the plate and getting my legs underneath me. The next three or four days should help."
Final tuneup: In Gil Meche's last start before Opening Day, he allowed seven runs on 10 hits, including two Russell Branyan home runs, in six innings. He walked two and struck out three.
"I think he was having trouble getting his fastball down," Bell said. "I think he's ready to go, and that's the main thing."
Meche went 0-3 with a 7.31 ERA in four spring starts.
Hudson update: Luke Hudson was back in camp after having Dr. Timothy Kremchek examine his sore shoulder in Florida. Hudson was diagnosed with an inflamed biceps tendon.
"The team is packing everything up, and breaking, and we've got our first game on Monday and I'm not going to be ready for it," Hudson said. "It's the most frustrating thing in the world."
Hudson said he would start throwing again on Saturday.
"I wasn't too concerned about anything being torn or about any structural damage, but it's reassuring," Hudson said. "I tried to be smart about it. I thought I was going to be fine, and I am going to be fine. It's a minor thing, but it's so frustrating because the inflammation has taken longer to get out of there than I hoped."
Hudson said he hopes to return to the rotation by mid-April, depending on how quickly he can get his pitch count up.
On deck: Perez will start for the Royals on Thursday in a 2:05 p.m. CT start at Surprise Stadium against the Rangers, who will start Brandon McCarthy. It will be the Royals' final Spring Training game in Arizona before playing two games against the Astros in Houston.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.