The battle for the Kansas City Royals‘ fifth spot in the rotation was not settled this week, but certainly it had the wind taken out of its sails with the sudden news that Luke Hochevar was out of the running. He had not particularly impressed so far in the spring, but I thought that he was probably doing enough to retain his spot. But manager Ned Yost thought otherwise and decided he needed to give Hochevar experience out of the bullpen starting now.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this assignment is going to be Hochevar’s last chance with the Royals. If he cannot start to show his ability this year out of the bullpen, there is a very good chance that he will be not be wearing Royals colors in 2014. It would be a great shame, but the Royals cannot persist with him forever.
But there is some cause for optimism as well. Long-time Royals’ fans do not have to think very far back to remember the year Zack Greinke spent pitching out of the bullpen. It was as Greinke began his comeback from the personal problems that had thrown a spanner into the works of his career and he excelled. He started throwing harder than he had previously done and focussed on a few key pitches. In short, he became a much better pitcher and when he returned to the rotation it was as the dominant starter and future Cy Young winner with whom we are now familiar. It is easy to forget that he, like Hochevar, underperformed badly at the start of his career.
The Royals and all of Kansas City (who care about baseball, anyway) will analyse the situation carefully and the hope will then be that Hochevar does something similar and can refine his game in the bullpen. If he starts pitching as well as we know he can, he would make an excellent addition to the rotation in 2015.