The final spot in the Royals’ rotation goes to right-hander Luis Mendoza after a series of strong spring performances.
Mendoza, 29, won the job Tuesday morning when manager Ned Yost announced plans to shift left-hander Bruce Chen to the bullpen.
“Mendy had a better spring,” Yost said. “He’s a better guy right now. The reason for that is Bruce, like most veteran players, has been a little slow to get it going in spring training.
“Starting the season, we wanted to put the guys out there who were doing the best in spring training.
“I’m not saying that won’t change somewhere down the road because the more we get deeper into it, who knows what is going to happen? But that’s where we’re starting.”
Mendoza allowed just one one run in 11 innings over three spring appearances, while Chen surrendered 13 runs and 16 hits in 13 ⅔ innings in four outings.
“That was my main goal,” said Mendoza, who has one spring start remaining. “But it’s not just that, I want to do my best, pitch well, pitch to win and help my teammates to have the opportunity to win games.”
Yost previously announced the rotation’s front four will be James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis.
That positions Mendoza to make his first start April 6 in Philadelphia. Before that, he is slotted to pitch Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers in Maryvale.
“I’m pitching with a lot of confidence,” he said. “That’s the main thing. I think I can take that to the big-league level and get people out.”
Mendoza prepped for his spring competition with Chen and Luke Hochevar by pitching in winter ball and in the World Baseball Classic.
“That helped me a lot,” Mendoza said. “I did it for that reason, to be able to come to spring ready to compete. Every start, I went to the mound to show them I can get people out; that I can be consistent.”
Chen won 35 games over the last three seasons and appeared a heavy favorite to remain in the rotation after the Royals opted earlier in the month to shift Hochevar to the bullpen.
“I worked very hard but, ultimately, it wasn’t my decision,” Chen said. “It wasn’t my call, but the year isn’t over either. I’m going to try to do everything I can to make it into a positive.
“If I wind up being a reliever for the whole year, that means the whole starting rotation did well. We’ll be in really good shape. If for some reason, they need me (in the rotation), I’m going to be ready.”
The Royals still have three looming roster decisions:
• Backup catcher between Brett Hayes and George Kottaras.
• A second utility infielder between Miguel Tejada and Irving Falu.
• Final pitcher in a seven-man bullpen, where right-handers J.C. Gutierrez, Dan Wheeler and Louis Coleman remain in competition with lefties Francisley Bueno and Donnie Joseph.
Tejada is a heavy favorite to win a spot over Falu, but the other two decisions remain toss-ups.
“We’re a little closer,” Yost said, “but that’s not coming in the next day or two, I think. That will go down to the wire. Those are tough decisions.”
The Royals break camp after Friday’s game against Cleveland at Surpruse Stadium. They open the regular season next Monday against the White Sox in Chicago.
Chen had been scheduled to start Tuesday’s wgame against the Mariners in Peoria. Instead, he worked one shaky scoreless inning — two singles and a walk — after replacing of minor-leaguer Sugar Ray Marimon.
“The reason we made this decision with Bruce now,” Yost said, “is because if we started him today, he’s done for the rest of spring training. We’ll put him in the game as a reliever today to start get acclimated to it.
“We’ll be able to do it again Thursday or Friday. That gives him two cracks at it.”
The Royals summoned Marimon from minor-league camp because it was his scheduled day to pitch. He worked three scoreless relief appearances earlier this spring prior to being reassigned to the minors.
“I obviously have to make some adjustments,” Chen said. “Luckily, they’re giving me a couple of outings to get my arm adjusted to pitching every day. It’s a challenge, and I’m going to try to make the most out of it.
“Luke took a really good approach (when sent to the bullpen), and he has been excelling at that position. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. I want to try to do everything I can to help this team win.”