Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland dismisses the notion that Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez are any more important to the rotation than the other arms.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
All five guys are important, said Eiland, who is in his first season with the team. You dont just win with two starters; you win with five.
Still, starting pitching was a significant part of the Royals rocky start this season, and theres little doubt that Hochevar and Sanchez struggled the most.
The first six starts for Hochevar, a former No. 1 draft pick, included three where he completed four innings or fewer and allowed seven or more runs, producing a 9.00 ERA with ghastly peripherals 39 hits and 12 walks in 28 innings with a .336 opponents batting average and a .408 opponents on-base percentage.
Sanchez was almost as bad in his first six starts, posting a 6.75 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 22 walks in 251/3 innings before going to the 15-day disabled list for biceps tendinitis after leaving a start May 7.
However, in the last six weeks, the two have gone in opposite directions. Hochevar is flashing signs of a major turnaround, while Sanchez continues to flounder.
During his last nine starts, Hochevar has posted a 3.20 ERA with 50 strikeouts and 16 walks in 59 innings, including his second career shutout and first at Kauffman Stadium in Mondays series opener with the Rays.
My mix is better, Hochevar said. Im changing speeds a lot more and pitching in effectively, but it comes down to making good pitches and pitch execution.
It also took a willingness on Hochevars part to trust Eiland and make adjustments to his strategy.
We didnt give him anything new, but we got him to simplify things, Eiland said. Weve gotten back to his main core pitches his four-seam fastball, his curveball and his change-up. He still has his sinker and his cutter, but he uses those just to enhance those three other pitches.
We want 85 percent of his pitches to be his four-seam fastball, his curveball and change-up. He can use the cutter and sinker as needed, but he was overusing those, and those are his fourth and fifth pitches, and there wasnt enough separation in his pitches miles-per-hour-wise.
Hochevar, 5-7 with a 5.07 ERA, needed some time before he was receptive to that suggestion, but the results of late have been remarkable, including 162/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
We had several conversations prior to his start at Pittsburgh, and I dont want to get into the nuts and bolts of that, Eiland said. Thats between Luke and I, but there were some sit-downs and there were some heart-to-hearts.
Hochevars turnaround has turned the spotlight back on Sanchez, who is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and only 10 strikeouts compared with 12 walks in three starts since returning to action.
I am having bad luck right now, and its not going my way. But I just have to fight through it, and good things are going to happen, said Sanchez, who is making $5.6 million this season and will be eligible for free-agency. I feel 100 percent, but I have to keep pitching and get some good luck.
Eiland was adamant that Sanchez must turn things around.
Im not going to sit here and sugarcoat anything, Eiland said. Hes got to step it up. Im not going to sit here and tell you hes fine. Hes not fine, and he needs to step it up and he knows it. Hes been told that.
But the way you step it up is trusting your ability and trusting your stuff, trusting yourself within the strike zone, staying on the attack and not pitching away from contact. He knows that, and we need him to step up. Theres no doubt about it.
I cant speak for anybody else. But am I happy with what hes doing? Absolutely not, and he shouldnt be happy, either.
Hes not, but we need him. If were going to accomplish what we want to accomplish here, we need Jonathan Sanchez to be good. Its in him, but he has to go out and do it.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.