Hochevar no longer in the mix for rotation spot
Veteran right-hander had been starter for Kansas City since 2008 season
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Luke Hochevar's bid for the No. 5 spot in the Royals' pitching rotation is over. He's going to the bullpen.
That leaves Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, Will Smith and perhaps even young Yordano Ventura in consideration for the job. Manager Ned Yost made the announcement on Wednesday morning.
"I think it makes us a better team, it makes us a stronger team, it gives us a better chance to win every day," Yost said. "With three weeks left, I want to get [Hochevar] acclimated to that role."
Hochevar will not have a set role in relief, Yost said. He could pitch in the late innings or early in a game.
Hochevar, who has been a rotation regular for the Royals since 2008, has made just four career relief appearances. He's made 128 starts, including a career high 32 last year, when he was 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA.
His starting status was diminished in the offseason, when the Royals traded for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie for the first four spots in the rotation.
"I'm willing to take the ball in any position that I can to help the club," Hochevar said. "That's the bottom line, whether it is starting or relieving or whatever it is. My role is not important, what's important is that when I take the ball, I'm helping the club."
Yost envisions Hochevar, a right-hander, fitting in with his "big four" of the bullpen -- right-handers Greg Holland (the closer), Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera, and left-hander Tim Collins.
"[Hochevar is] a guy that's durable, that has very power-arm stuff," Yost said. "He's a guy that can come in and throw 94 miles an hour with a good breaking ball. He's a guy that can pitch multiple innings. I just think that right now there are a lot of reasons for it, some of them I'm not going to go into."
Yost took a positive approach both in talking to Hochevar and to reporters.
"It's not a demotion. It's actually, quite frankly, a bit of a promotion in my mind. You go from helping your team win every five days to help your team win every day," Yost said. "I think it's a win-win. I think it's going to be the best thing for him and the best thing for the team."
Hochevar broke into the Majors in September 2007 with three relief appearances before making his first start. He's pitched just once in relief since then.
He took the high road about the move.
"If that's what best suits the team, we take it and roll with it. That's what it's about, is helping the club get to the playoffs and doing what we can to get to the postseason," Hochevar said.
Yost hasn't said if he'll start the season with seven or eight pitchers in his bullpen. Five -- Holland, Crow, Herrera, Collins and Hochevar -- are in. A loser -- or losers -- in the No. 5 starter derby likely will be added to the 'pen. There also could be room for a left-handed specialist, possibly Francisley Bueno or Donnie Joseph.
"It does open up the possibility for another lefty," Yost said.
The shift of Hochevar leaves Chen and Mendoza as the top two candidates for the remaining rotation spot.
"Are Bruce and Mendy the front-runners? Yes, absolutely," Yost said. "But Will Smith has done phenomenal this spring and so has Ventura, so we keep their name in the mix. That's not beyond the realm of possibility that [one of them is named the fifth starter]."
To clear some innings for the candidates, the Royals are moving two of their top four starters to Minor League games this weekend -- Davis on Friday and Shields on Sunday. Coincidentally, that also keeps Shields from facing the White Sox, the team he'd meet in the opening series of the season.
Smith and Ventura will start in Friday's day-night, split-squad doubleheader, Chen will start on Saturday and Mendoza on Sunday.
Hochevar said he was overlooking any disappointment about the move and viewing it as a good thing, although admittedly he's not certain what to expect.
"I'm really not going to find out until I get out there," he said.
Yost's pitch to Hochevar included how Davis pitched in relief all last season for the Rays and learned from it, and how Zack Greinke worked in the Royals' bullpen before winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2009.
"[Hochevar] is a power-arm guy who has yet to have major success, but [he] has potential to have major success," Yost said. "With Wade going to the 'pen last year, it upped his game as a pitcher. It got him over the edge, we think, to be a complete starter.
"It happened with Greinke -- struggled, went to the 'pen, Cy Young. It helps guys every once in a while to get in there. Now, if he finds his niche, who's to say he's not going to be the next Joe Nathan? All those possibilities are there, if you're looking at the bright side of things. If you're looking at the negative side of things … but we don't ever do that."
Yost insisted he was not exercising some spin control on the Hochevar shift.
"Sometimes you do spin it. In my mind, there's no spin here," he said. "We've got to go and find out. We just have too much faith in his ability. He's just too good not to be good."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.