The working plan for putting together the Royals’ rotation, two weeks prior to Christmas, is to give a long spring look to Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis for the final two slots.
Both pitched effectively last season in the bullpen — Hochevar for the entire year — after struggling as starters.
“I’m anxious to see Hoch give it a shot as a starter again,” manager Ned Yost said Monday during his interview session at the Winter Meetings. “I’m anxious to see Wade Davis give it a shot as a starter again.
“I think both of these guys are tremendous competitors. We saw both of those guys (last) year in the bullpen, and those two guys could have been one of the top tandems in the American League coming out of the pen. They were dynamite.”
Either Hochevar, Davis or both could return to the bullpen if any of the club’s three young starters — Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer — pitch their way into the rotation in spring training.
“We always have that to fall back on,” Yost said. “if, say, Ventura and Duffy have lights-out springs. So who knows what’s going to happen?
“We’ve got these kids, both Duffy and Ventura — and maybe Zimmer — who have tremendous upside. We might be able to jump on it and ride it for awhile. We don’t know. We’re going to find out.”
The rotation’s first three slots, barring injuries, are set with James Shields, newcomer Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie.
General manager Dayton Moore and other club officials previously indicated a preference that one of the two remaining spots, if not both, go to youngsters with upside potential.
Yost’s comments suggest those spots must be earned.
Hochevar, 30, shifted last spring to the bullpen and produced a 1.92 ERA in 58 relief appearances after compiling a 5.39 ERA in five-plus erratic seasons in the rotation.
“We’ve always loved his stuff,” Yost said. “We just couldn’t figure out a way to get him over the hump. When we put him in the pen last year, that might have gotten him over the hump.
“We think he can still be a very productive starter. We’ll give him an opportunity, come spring, to see where we’re at.”
Davis, 28, made 24 starts in his first season with the Royals after arriving last December in a trade with Tampa Bay. But he was 6-10 with a 5.67 ERA prior to shifting in September to the bullpen.
The move clicked. Davis permitted just one run and three hits in 10 innings over seven relief appearances.
Duffy, 24, was 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts after returning from Tommy John surgery but finished the season on the disabled list as a precautionary measure because of forearm soreness.
Ventura, 22, had a 3.52 ERA in three September starts after replacing Duffy in the rotation. Ventura was a combined 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA while splitting 26 games at Class AAA Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Zimmer, 22, was the club’s first-round pick in 2012 and is generally viewed as the organization’s top prospect. He was picked by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Hi-A Carolina League.