The earliest spring opener in Royals history Friday provided no glimpse of the club’s rebuilt rotation.
It was lefty Will Smith who worked the first two innings — two superb innings, actually — in a disappointing 5-5 tie with the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium.
Don’t look for any marquee names Saturday, either.
The Royals plan to start waiver-claimee Guillermo Moscoso for the second of three straight games against their complex co-tenants. On Sunday, veteran Luis Mendoza will start the weekend finale.
Plans then call for lefty prospect Chris Dwyer to start Monday’s game against Arizona before, finally, the Royals begin testing their real guns Tuesday when Wade Davis starts against Cleveland in Goodyear.
Blame the extended spring schedule this year for the keeping the club’s marquee names under wraps.
“Starters need to get six starts,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “With this extra week, if I put them in early, they get seven starts. That’s too many. They don’t need it.
“For me, spring training is too long. I could get them ready in four or five starts, but this is what we have.”
Davis will start the cycle. The Royals plan to start Luke Hochevar, James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie over the next four days. Bruce Chen is expected to pitch behind Hochevar in a piggyback arrangement.
(A piggyback start means the pitcher will warm up as a starter and begin an inning. If the actual starter needs to depart earlier than expected, a reliever will be used prior to the piggyback starter entering the game).
“Forget the innings and (number of) starts,” manager Ned Yost said. “You want pitch count. I want to get them up to past 90 pitches — so that when they start their first game, on rotation, they’re ready to go 100 or 105.”
The same approach will be used, at least initially, for Hochevar and Chen, who are competing for the rotation’s fifth and final spot.
Mendoza is also competing for that job, but he is on a different program because of his pending participation in the World Baseball Classic. Also, he is already stretched out; he threw 113 pitches on Feb. 6 while pitching 7 1/3 innings in the Caribbean World Series.
Starters are typically limited to 30-35 pitches in their first spring outing, but Yost said Mendoza is likely to go “60 and maybe 70 pitches” in Sunday’s game against the Rangers.
“Mendoza is mid-season shape,” Yost said. “We just maintain him. He doesn’t have to build up, but he needs to be ready to compete in that (WBC) game.”
Eiland’s plan, which is typical, increases a starter’s workload by 15-18 pitches for every outing.
“By their fifth start,” he said, “they’re in that 90-to-100 range. On the sixth start, you back them off. Seven starts are too many.”
Make no mistake: Shields, Guthrie, Santana and Davis will, barring injuries, open the season as the club’s front four starters.
While Shields and Davis are set as No. 1 and No. 4, Yost said he remains undecided about where to slot Guthrie and Santana — although Santana is No. 2 on the first cycle through the spring rotation.
“There’s no way any of those guys can pitch poorly enough (not to be in the rotation),” Yost said. “That’s never even entered my mind. These are our starters. These are the guys who are going to be there.”
Mendoza is one of three pitchers from the Royals’ 40-man roster scheduled to pitch in the WBC, but the other two — right-hander Kelvin Herrera and lefty Tim Collins — are relievers.
Conditioning isn’t a major concern for Herrera and Collins because each is unlikely to pitch more than one inning at a time in WBC games. Even so, both are scheduled to pitch Sunday behind Mendoza.
“We want to make sure they face a couple of guys,” Yost said, “but we’re backing other guys off.”
Neither closer Greg Holland nor setup reliever Aaron Crow, the other members of the club’s back-four relief corps, are scheduled to pitch in the weekend games against Texas.
Eiland’s plan is for all four to work 10-13 innings prior to the season.
“You’ll give them a two-inning stint once or twice,” he said. “That’s usually in the middle. Maybe near the end, you might give them one back-to-back. But I like to give them at least two days off from their last spring game (before the regular season).
“Our schedule this year has our last spring game on a Friday and we open up on a Monday. So that’s easy.”