Royals

Hochevar adapting to new role in Royals’ bullpen

Updated: 2013-04-27T02:09:07Z

By BOB DUTTON

The Kansas City Star

There was a point late in spring training when a discussion with Royals manager Ned Yost turned to rotation alternatives should the need arise through injury or extended ineffectiveness.

Bruce Chen probably heads that list, but Luke Hochevar, the other long-term starter who shifted this season to the bullpen? Probably not. Yost makes it clear the Royals want to get a good look at Hochevar as a reliever.

“Once he gets into that role, and gets comfortable,” Yost said, “I think he’s going to excel. I’ve seen it happen many times, and I don’t think it will be a long process.”

Fast forward to now:

Hochevar, 29, has made four relief appearances to date but only once since April 12 — a one-inning outing in the second game of last Sunday’s doubleheader sweep in Boston.

Irregular work is just one of the many adjustments he’s learning to make.

“I get on the mound every other day for 15 (pitches) before a game,” he said. “Just a quick workout. I do it at a pretty good intensity. The main thing is having a high intensity of focus.

“It’s not like when you’re a starter. You’ve got 30 pitches or so in your (between-starts) bullpen. You can ease into your first five or 10.

“As a reliever, I get loose, and when I step on the mound, I throw 12-to-15 pitches at high intensity and high focus. Just pop-pop-pop and get it done. Then get ready for the game.”

The Royals shifted Hochevar to the bullpen on March 13, and spin aside, it was an acknowledgment that, at this point anyway, he doesn’t merit a spot in their rotation.

Yost talked of Hochevar, a former No. 1 overall pick, providing another late-inning power arm, and the early returns — yes, a small sample size — validate that belief: one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings.

“He’s got his fastball up to 97 miles an hour,” Yost said. “He’s got a phenomenal breaking ball that he’s throwing for strikes, and he’s super on the attack.”

Even more impressive, perhaps, is how Hochevar accepted the move with grace, and continues to do so, regardless of his personal disappointment.

“I’m not going to do that (think negatively). And the team is playing well. That’s the bottom line. We’re winning ballgames, and that’s what matters. You can control your attitude. You can control what you think about.

“I just try to come in every day and have a good attitude and, if my name is called, take the ball and try to help the club. We’re winning. It’s a fun environment.”

The switch won’t necessarily be permanent and can, in fact, provide the boost of a career reset — as teammate Wade Davis knows.

Davis shifted last season to the bullpen at Tampa Bay following two years as a starter before returning this season to his former role after an offseason trade brought him to the Royals.

He knows what Hochevar is going through.

“It’s a different world in the way you go about things,” Davis said. “I had to change everything about my off-the-field program. There wasn’t really a program any more. There was just show and go.

“Things can happen pretty quick in the bullpen. If there’s a time or two that you go out there where you aren’t mentally into it that day ... you give up two runs in one-third of an inning, and it takes a month to make that back.

“So it can be, at first, a little bit overwhelming. You think, ‘Wow, I’ve got to go a month of clean baseball to get things cleaned back up.’ After a while, it became very beneficial to show up and feel ready every day.”

Hochevar is currently enduring the same learning curve, including the difficulty of staying sharp while enduring extended stretches between appearances.

“Actually, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of adapting to it,” he said. “It’s such an adrenaline rush as a reliever. You run out there, and you’re pitching on adrenaline. I think your focus heightens when that happens.

“When the gate opens and you’re in the game, that all leaves your mind. You’re not running out there thinking, ‘Man, I haven’t pitched in 10 days.’ You just go into game mode.”

That’s another key: Don’t overanalyze; keep it simple.

“It’s different,” he said, “but, then again, you’ve got to find ways to be prepared when the phone rings and your name is called. That’s where I’m at. You have to take it on. And when we win, who cares what your role is?”

To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to bdutton@kcstar.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals Report.

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