Warm feelings accompany Royals pitchers, catchers
With most arriving ahead of schedule, batterymates taking breezy approach to spring
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar swears it was 34 degrees when he stepped outside about 6:30 on Sunday morning.
"Whoa! I'm going to need another jacket," he thought, retreating inside.
Later, fellow pitcher Kelvin Herrera, dressed like he was back home in the Dominican Republic, hurried toward the Royals' clubhouse shivering in a yellow T-shirt. By this time, Arizona sunshine was helping a bit as the Royals gathered for another morning of voluntary work at the Surprise training complex.
Could be worse -- new pitcher Wade Davis' wife, Katelyn, sent him a photo showing two feet of snow at their Hudson Valley, N.Y., home.
"My dogs are almost underneath it," he said.
Mostly, though, the Royals are having warm thoughts as Tuesday's first official day of Spring Training approaches. Most of the 34 pitchers and seven catchers on the camp roster have already arrived, ahead of today's reporting date.
At mid-morning on Sunday, about 30 pitchers sauntered past plantings of blue and white geraniums outside the clubhouse, their spikes crunching through the gravel. They made their way onto lush grass for some warm-up sprints. By now, the temperature was up to 50, and amiable conversation filled the warming air.
"It seems pretty laid back here. It's not going to be too intense. Just get our work in and make sure we're healthy," Davis said.
Nearby, on George Brett Field, Salvador Perez and other catchers took some batting practice swings against the soft serves of coach Rusty Kuntz. The infielders and outfielders who'd been around earlier decided to take Sunday off; they're not required to practice until Friday anyway.
With the White Tank Mountains for a distant backdrop under a cloudless sky, the group migrated to a row of bullpen mounds.
"These are just light, unofficial workouts," manager Ned Yost said. "Guys are just throwing side sessions, getting ready for the opening of camp so that everybody's in good shape, ready to throw BP. "
James Shields, the new top gun of the rotation, threw for the first time on Saturday. Among the watchers was Art Stewart, the legendary scout who has been in Royals' camps for more than four decades. He sensed Shields' tenacity.
"Ned's going to have a tough time prying the ball out of his hands," Stewart said.
Perez, the starting catcher, is using this preliminary time to learn about the new pitchers.
"We try to mix it up and catch bullpens every day," Perez said. "I want to learn all the new pitchers. Yesterday I caught Shields, the other day [Ervin] Santana and Davis. Also [Bruce] Chen and Hochevar -- all the starting pitchers."
The revamped rotation, of course, is the element that has generated the most hope around the Royals' chances this year.
"We certainly feel like we're better and the rotation, potentially, is much more consistent," general manager Dayton Moore said. "So we're obviously very encouraged there. But the entire division is better."
There's an added element to Spring Training this year -- the third World Baseball Classic. Several Royals are on the provisional rosters of competing countries and three of them -- Chen (China), Tim Collins (USA) and Herrera (Dominican) -- happened to be throwing in the bullpen at the same time on Sunday.
Early game competition in the Classic, away from a player's Major League club, causes some concern.
"When players are playing, there's always risk. But we've always encouraged and supported our players to participate in international baseball," Moore said. "And that's what they do -- they go and play. ... They're in shape and they're ready to play."
Yost thinks so. He said starting pitchers Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, coming off Tommy John surgery, are the only 40-man roster players with significant medical issues. The trick, of course, is to maintain that as Spring Training unfolds. Last year camp wasn't very old before catchers Perez and Manny Pina and closer Joakim Soria were out with injuries.
Spring Training, of course, harbors dreams as younger players try to make an impression. Pitcher Justin Marks, who had a successful Fall League, is among those in his first Major League camp. His chances to make the team are remote, but does he believe he could do it?
"Always. Realistically ... I mean, you never know," Marks said. "My goal is going to be, yeah, to try to make this team. Am I going to be crushed if I don't? Absolutely not. I'm just going to try to pitch the best I can and, hopefully, something good turns out. I'm not going to count myself out."
Nor are the Royals counting themselves out of anything. They believe they're better. But there's a long way to go.
The Royals don't even officially open camp until Tuesday. This is the calm before the storm.
On Sunday, Surprise Stadium was empty, the grass glistening with morning dew. The sun was turning the infield dirt's dark moisture of night into the light tan of day. The green seats bore a film of dust.
Except for the chirps of birds landing on the backstop, everything was quiet. It won't be that way for long. On Friday, Feb. 22, it's Royals versus Rangers, and the marathon of 2013 begins.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.