With Ron Mahay, John Bale and Horacio Ramirez gone from the bullpen scene, It’s no secret the Royals are scrambling for a left-hander to pitch some relief innings. Theyve assembled a group to compete for what’s likely to be a lone job in the pen. It’s a thin group.

Dusty Hughes pitched well enough in a September audition, throwing 14 innings with 15 strikeouts with a 5.14 ERA. He made 7 relief appearances (one start) and really had just one poor outing. He’s progressed through the minors and had a 3.50 ERA in Triple-A last summer, splitting his time between the rotation and the bullpen. He could be a swing-man for the Royals.

Another potential swing-man is Bruce Chen. I know, I know Do we really need to give this guy another shot? At 33, he should be finished as a rotation candidate, but perhaps he can help out of the pen. He’s not a power arm, but has decent control – his walk rate was 3.6 BB/9 last year which was right in line with his career rate. The problem with Chen is, the guy doesn’t miss enough bats. Last year the league hit .301 against him and made contact on 85% of his strikes. His contact rate and batting average against has been climbing steadily over the last several years. Pass.

Once upon a time, John Parrish was an effective reliever for the Orioles. From 2003 to 2005 he appeared in 84 games throwing 119 innings with a 3.10 ERA. That was despite walking over six batters per nine innings. But he kept the ball in the park (0.5 HR/9) and struck out roughly 8.5 batters per nine. The walks keep him out of high leverage situations, but he could chew up an inning or two. Parrish missed all of 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

The most intriguing name bandied about is Danny Duffy. Duffy, Baseball America’s eighth rated prospect for the Royals, has yet to pitch above high-A ball, but that hasn’t dampered enthusiasm for the young lefty. He projects as a starter, but the Royals could break him in through the bullpen. I’m as excited as anyone for the minor league pitching pipeline to start to produce, but I’m thinking that Duffy – who is 21 and in just his fourth professional season – needs a little more minor league seasoning. I have no problem with putting him on the fast track, but give him some time in the high minors before bringing him to the K.

Edgar Osuna was the Royals lone Rule 5 pick last December, which probably gives him the inside track on a bullpen job. Osuna has largely pitched as a starter and had a 3.72 ERA with a 2.33 SO/BB ratio in Double-A Mississippi last year. He’s just 22 and in his fifth season, which puts him slightly ahead of Duffy in the experience category. Osuna has outstanding control. In 350 minor league innings, he’s walked just 78 batters. In the lower levels of the minors, he simply blew hitters away, but as he’s risen through the ranks his strikeout rate has dropped. Last year he struck out 6.9 per nine in High A ball and 5.7 per nine following his promotion to Double A.

None of the guys the Royals have in camp profiles as a LOOGY (the left hander brought in only to face a single left handed batter). None of them own dominating platoon splits to be counted on for that role. That’s OK I guess, if SABR Trey can figure out how to juggle the match-ups and bring his lefty in at the proper times. You know, Jim Thome is still in the division…

A couple of other notes:

– The Tigers announced their pitching match-ups against the Royals for their first two games of the year. As expected Justin Verlander will start opposite Zack Greinke on Opening Day. They’ll be followed by Gil Meche and Max Scherzer in game number two.

Opening Day is great for a number of reasons. At the top of my list is it always features the top pitchers in the game. I can’t wait for the Greinke/Verlander match-up. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate.

– Today is a huge day for those of us who enjoy a video game from time to time as it’s the release day for MLB 10: The Show. Speaking of which, you absolutely have to watch this footage from the game. It starts off with a Betancourt error and features Kendall and Ankiel both striking out in a 12-1 pasting at the hands of the Rangers.

– We’ll have info soon on the 2010 Royals Authority Annual. You know Issues like cost and release date. Soon.