Ned Yost pondered the loss of reliever Luke Hochevar all Friday evening.
When he arrived at the Royals complex on Saturday morning, he made his first decision to fill the void created by Hochevar’s season-ending Tommy John surgery. Yost removed Wade Davis from the No. 5 starter competition and inserted him into the back of his bullpen.
“He’s a dominant factor down there for us,” Yost said. “Once we lost Hoch, it became apparent to me that his presence was sorely needed down there.”
The decision shocked few. Davis entered this camp behind Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy on the team’s depth chart. In five big-league seasons, Davis has been a serviceable starter (4.57 career ERA) and a higher-quality reliever (2.24 ERA).
Davis joined the Royals last winter as a critical addition to the James Shields trade. After spending 2012 in the Tampa Bay bullpen, Davis posted a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts for the Royals. He lost his spot in the rotation by year’s end. He is likely to become a free agent after this season, unless the Royals decide to pick up his $7 million option.
Yost admitted Davis “had been pitching as well or better than any of the candidates for that rotation spot.” But Yost did not want to mislead Davis, and ask him to pitch the innings of a starter when the decision had already been made. Before 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Yost called Davis into his office and explained his rationale.
The news did not exactly travel fast. As an interview with Davis broke up, a member of the team’s media relations staff told reporters Davis had already grown the beard required to join the bullpen. Seated behind the scrum, closer Greg Holland’s ears perked up.
“Whoa, did you just say bullpen?” Holland said. “He’s a starter. Don’t let them do you like that.”
Davis managed a smile. Yost painted Davis as a consummate professional, willing to do whatever for the team. But Davis did little to hide his disappointment. He offered “What are you going to do? Say no?”
“At the end of the day, they make the decision,” he said. “They write the checks. They get to decide what you do. For me to argue about it would be stupid. I’ll happily take the job, and do some real damage with this bullpen.”
The composition of that group is still taking shape with Opening Day a little more than three weeks away. Five players appear locked into spots: Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Davis. Louis Coleman has an excellent chance to make the club.
For the final reliever, Yost is currently weighing his options. He could take a second left-hander, such as Franciscley Bueno or Donnie Joseph. Yost floated the possibility of a long reliever, such as Everett Teaford or P.J. Walters. A more remote outcome involves either Duffy or Ventura sticking with the team in the bullpen.
General manager Dayton Moore prefers the loser of the competition reports to Class AAA Omaha. The club wants insurance in case a starter suffers an injury.
“I probably share that thought,” Yost said. “That way you’ve got guys down there that are built up if something happens.”
That player will not be Davis. He will work in two-inning bursts. Yost does not intend to utilize Davis as a swingman. Instead, he’ll try to help weather the loss of Hochevar.
“I’ve had an understanding for the past four months the decision that needed to be made,” Davis said. “I feel good about the way I’m throwing right now. No matter what was going to happen, I feel like I was going to be successful. This is what they want to do.”