It might be temporary but, from all appearances, there’s been a changing of the guard in the Royals’ bullpen.
Right-hander Luke Hochevar and lefty Will Smith now serve as the primary bridges to closer Greg Holland after manager Ned Yost spent most of the season relying on righty Aaron Crow and lefty Tim Collins.
“Riding hot arms right now,” Yost agreed prior to Sunday’s game. “Timmy has been much better (lately), but both of those guys (Collins and Crow) have had periods when they’ve struggled to get ahead and throw strikes.
“I can trust that Hoch is going to come in and throw strikes. Aaron has great stuff. When he’s on, it’s unhittable, but it’s all about throwing strikes. It’s command.”
The new look was evident Saturday night when Yost turned to Smith and Hochevar to nurse a 1-0 lead over Detroit to Holland, who survived a ninth inning that climaxed with an out at the plate.
“We haven’t used those guys (Collins and Crow) much lately,” Yost said, “but it’s (partly) been circumstances. We’re trying to break down the match-ups individually, and that’s the way it’s worked out.
“Will Smith has a fastball and sweeping slider that’s tough to see. Timmy has a hard fastball, curveball and change. Against certain (left-handed) guys, I like that sweeping slider.”
It helps, certainly, that Smith and Hochevar have sparkled in their higher-leverage roles.
Smith has allowed two runs and five hits in 13 1/3 innings in nine games since Aug. 6. Hochevar has been good all year in compiling a 1.67 ERA in 52 outings and is on a run of 11 2/3 scoreless innings in his last nine games.
In contrast, Crow has pitched just twice in September and, each time, allowed runs. Collins hasn’t worked since Sept. 5.
“Crow and Collins,” Yost said, “these guys have been so good all year long. You don’t want them to stagnate out there. We’ve got to get Crow some work. He’s an All-Star (in 2011).
“But, right now, we’re just trying to get the best match-ups.”Pena out of hospital
First baseman Carlos Pena returned with the Royals’ traveling party to Kansas City after being released from the suburban Detroit hospital early Sunday following surgery Saturday to perform an emergency appendectomy.
Pena, 35, is not expected to play again this season.
The Royals signed Pena, a 13-year veteran, to a minor-league contract on Aug. 27 following his July 31 release by Houston, where he batted .209 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 85 games.
Pena was six for 22 with two homers in five games at Class AAA Omaha before the Royals selected his contract for their major-league roster on Sept. 3. He appeared in four games and struck out in each of his three at-bats.Ticket offer
The Royals are offering Field Plaza tickets at $15 for each of the three games in the series against Cleveland that opens Monday at Kauffman Stadium. Those tickets typically sell for $33.
The promotion is a partnership with KCSP (610 AM) and is dubbed the “610 September Special.” Field Plaza seats are, generally, located on the back end lower bowl between the dugouts and foul lines.
All Hy-Vee Level tickets, excluding the Hy-Vee Box seats, are priced Monday at $7. That includes, roughly, all of the upper bowl except for the lower seats from dugout to dugout.
The series against the Indians also includes two promotional giveaways.
The first 10,000 fans on Tuesday get a green T-shirt to mark “Halfway to St. Paddy’s Day.” The first 10,000 fans on Wednesday get a reusable water bottle.Omaha in title game
Class AAA Omaha, newly crowned champion of the Pacific Coast League, will play Durham (Rays) on Tuesday in the Triple-A Championship game in Allentown, Pa.
Durham is the International League champions. The Bulls plan to start former Royals farmhand Jake Odorizzi. The Storm Chasers haven’t yet identified their starter, but top options are Yordano Ventura and Chris Dwyer.
Odorizzi and Ventura, while both in the Royals’ system, were the starting pitchers in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Odorizzi went to the Rays in last December’s big trade.
The game can be seen at 6 p.m. Central time on the NBC Sports Network.
Omaha won its second PCL title in three years Saturday with a 10-5 victory at Salt Lake. Lane Adams’ three-run triple keyed a six-run eighth inning. The Storm Chasers won the best-of-five series 3-1.Idaho Falls next?
Short-season Idaho Falls can capture its first Pioneer League crown since becoming a Royals affiliate in 2004 when it plays Monday at Helena (Brewers).
The Chukars beat Helena 2-1 on Saturday at home in the opener to the best-of-three series. Jonathan Dziedzic worked six shutout innings, and Hunter Dozier’s RBI double highlighted a two-run third inning.
A third game, if necessary, is Tuesday at Helena.Looking back
It was 34 years ago Monday — Sept. 16, 1979 — that Willie Wilson hit his fifth inside-the-park homer of the season in a 6-3 loss to Seattle at then-Royals Stadium.
The five inside-the-park homers remains a franchise record for a single season. Wilson also owns the club’s career record with 13.
The Royals have 94 inside-the-park homers in the 45-year history but none since David DeJesus on April 23, 2010 against Minnesota at Kauffman Stadium.