Luke Hochevar returned to the Royals on Thursday morning, and the club activated him for the series finale against Cleveland. The Royals optioned rookie Brandon Finnegan to Class AA Northwest Arkansas to make room for Hochevar on the roster.
Hochevar entered Thursday’s game in the sixth and pitched a perfect inning, striking out Michael Bourn and Roberto Perez while showing off a 95 mph fastball. Hochevar left to a standing ovation.
The team intended to recall Hochevar this weekend, when his 30-day rehabilitation assignment ended. But Finnegan threw 2 innings on Wednesday, and the club required a fresh arm.
“He’s been throwing good,” manager Ned Yost said before the game. “Feels good. Going into Detroit, with a predominately right-handed lineup, he’s going to be a good addition to our ‘pen.”
Hochevar had not pitched in a big-league game since Sept. 29, 2013. Hochevar tore his ulnar collateral ligament last March and underwent Tommy John surgery. He spent the past month on a minor-league rehab stint with Class AAA Omaha.
“It’s exciting to finally get back after a long, grueling year of rehab, and coming back,” Hochevar said before the game. “So it’s exciting to be back in this spot, finally, and be able to help these guys win and contribute. And do what I can to help. It’s definitely exciting.”
Yost will exercise caution when using Hochevar. Hochevar did not pitch on back-to-back days for Omaha. He says he could handle this assignment, but Yost indicated the team would be careful with him.
Hochevar posted a 7.84 ERA in nine outings for the Storm Chasers. Most of that statistic stems from a seven-run blowup against Colorado Springs. Hochevar overcame a bout of fatigue midway through the assignment. Scouts clocked his fastball velocity at 92-96 mph.
“Overall, I felt good,” Hochevar said. “Early on, I hit a little dead arm. I just took the appropriate steps to get back to feeling life. A lot of communication with (pitching coach) Dave (Eiland), having never gone through it before, not knowing what to expect. He had a lot of good input to really help me get over the hump, and just get to a point where I could bring my stuff together and harness everything in one go.”
Finnegan will pitch as a starter for the Naturals, but on an abbreviated pitch count. Yost indicated the club would like to keep him at about a 60-pitch limit in the immediate future. Finnegan departs with a 2.70 ERA.
“When he comes up here, he’s going to be able to help us out of the ‘pen, like he did here,” Yost said. “Did a fantastic job. He didn’t pitch himself off this team. He did a tremendous job. If we could get him to the 60-pitch mark, that gives him the ability to be a two-, or even a three-inning guy. If we need it.”