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Royals Q&A: More talk on Chen-Mendoza battle for fifth spot

Updated: 2013-04-21T16:58:32Z

By BOB DUTTON

The Kansas City Star

— It’s two weeks from today that the Royals open the regular season against the White Sox in Chicago, which is why James Shields shifted Sunday to a minor-league game.

The Royals saw no reason to offer the White Sox an early look at their likely starter for Opening Day. Shields responded by overmatching Milwaukee’s Hi-A club, Brevard County.

That doesn’t always happen when big-league pitchers drop down to minor-league games. Often, the minor-leaguers come out swinging, and major-league guys, conditioned to set up hitters, can get rocked.

“They were swinging,” Shields said. “That’s for sure.”

They just didn’t connect much. It was Shields’ fourth spring start, and he really began mixing in his curve as a contrast to his fastball and plus change-up.

It wasn’t fair.

Just to get his work in — 15 pitches an inning — the two sides agreed to give Brevard County an extra out nearly every inning. The result was Shields pitched the equivalent of 72/3 innings in six innings.

Shields permitted no runs and two hits while striking out eight and walking one. He threw 54 strikes in 76 pitches.

I got lots of questions regarding the fifth spot in the rotation after Luis Mendoza worked five strong innings Sunday in a 10-0 pounding of the White Sox. A few are answered below (most were similar):

One thing to remember: All clubs (not just the Royals) temper spring performances when making personnel evaluations. If you’re trying to anticipate a club’s moves, don’t get caught up in spring numbers.

It’s not that they don’t count; but they’re just one component. And often, they’re not the most important component. That’s not just true for the Mendoza/Bruce Chen battle but all positional competitions.

Do that and you might still disagree in the end, but you’ll probably be less surprised.

The Royals, 17-4-1, play their first night game tonight at Surprise Stadium when they meet campus co-tenant Texas at 8:05 p.m. Central time. Lineups won’t be available until later today.

Keep those questions coming on twitter to @Royals_Report. Here is today’s exchange:

@kc_at_the_bat: Which scoreless outing was more impressive, the one by Shields or Mendoza?

I didn’t see James Shields pitch since I was watching the big-league game. But Shields apparently overmatched Milwaukee Hi-A affliliate (Brevard County), while Luis Mendoza blanked a division rival for five innings.

@abarney51: Will royals give starters a break before season. Worried about fatigue getting lots of action in spring training.

If you mean the starting position players, they’ve been rested plenty. If you mean the starting pitchers, their sixth and last start will be a reduced outing. Probably just 60-70 pitches.

@dclatka: if the Royals are going "all in" this year why does service time,options matter? why not the best 25?

Because you’ve got to be “all in” for 162 games. When guys get hurt or underperform, you want as many options as possible. Now, that inventory becomes a little less important as the season unfolds.

@KinnerMode: With Chen struggling and Mendoza pitching well of late, are the odds shifting in Dozer’s favor for the 5th rotation spot?

My read is Luis Mendoza has made up some ground but that Bruce Chen is still likely to be the fifth starter when the season begins.

@shaben05: Do you get the feel that the front office believes that Christian Colon will play in the majors this season? Thanks

A major injury to shortstop Alcides Escobar — something requiring time on the disabled list — could likely result in Colon getting summoned as a replacement.

Barring that, I think Colon could get a late-season promotion and, if he has a good season, I could easily see him in the mix next season to be the starting second baseman.

@MLineBacker_32: Who are the potential suitors if the Royals trade Hoch and does this give Mendoza a legitimate shot at the #5 spot.

First, the move to shift Luke Hochevar to the bullpen effectively positions Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza as the top candidates for the final spot in the rotation. So in that sense, yes, I guess it improves Mendoza’s chances.

Second, I’m hearing the Royals aren’t pushing to trade Hochevar. They want to see how he looks in the bullpen in the hope that it might get him turned around, eventually, as a starter.

That doesn’t mean the Royals wouldn’t listen if somebody comes asking about Hochevar, but I don’t sense any urgency to make a deal. Less urgency, in fact, than a month ago.

@cernechy: funny to see the mass of reporters around Ventura after the game and then nobody on the royals side.

Sounds like you were at Sunday’s game. For games in Surprise, Royals manager Ned Yost conducts his postgame news conference near the conditioning field behind the Royals’ clubhouse.

Away from Surprise, Yost’s postgame sessions are, usually, on the field — like White Sox manager Robin Ventura did Sunday with the Chicago media.

@greghall24: Bob Dutton, the only man immune to #MarchMadness.

You’ve got to stay in your lane, Greg.

@AndresSpivey: indefensible for the Royals talking Chen over Mendoza as 5th starter. Using W/L to justify that is ludicrous

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t disagree more. What I’d find ludicrous is making the judgment based solely on a handful of innings in spring training. But our opinions don’t matter.

The Royals, from all appearances, are leaning toward Bruce Chen as their fifth starter. That’s not in stone. Luis Mendoza might still win the job.

@RSmithInc: Hosmer hasn’t looked great last 2weeks. I’m getting nervous...you?

I don’t want to dismiss concerns regarding Eric Hosmer, but I think they should be based on what he did last year over six months and not what he did over the last two weeks at the World Baseball Classic.

Whether Hosmer can bounce back is a legitimate question. The answer, yes or no, won’t be determined by what happens before the regular season starts.

@huskerjon00: First day down to Surprise, has Butler gained some weight from last season?

I don’t see a whole lot of difference.

@blamberty: What are the team’s - and your - thoughts of Brandon Wood’s play this spring? Where does he start ’13?

Brandon Wood has real power, but he still must prove he can hit big-league pitching on a consistent basis. I’d expect him to open the season as the starting third baseman at Class AAA Omaha.

To reach Bob Dutton, send email to bdutton@kcstar.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.

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