Inside a half-empty clubhouse, a room in which most of the veterans had already vacated for the day, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland summed up the team’s first live competition of the spring.
“It looked like it was a game on Feb. 24,” Eiland said with a smile after the opening intrasquad game was completed Monday.
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Which, in the grand scheme of things, is perfectly fine for this club. Nearly a week into this Royals camp, little of consequence has occurred. No major injuries have befallen the team. No controversies have erupted. And no judgments have been rendered in the competition for the fifth starting spot.
Ned Yost is not rushing to settle that last debate. Patience is a virtue he learned long ago, and one he believes he’s practiced since taking over as manager in 2010. He has no qualms about waiting until the end of camp to decide this.
The final slot in the rotation holds the key to the team’s pitching composition. Outside of closer Greg Holland, lefty Tim Collins and righty Aaron Crow, the positions in the bullpen have not been parceled out. Once the front office completes its starting staff, it can arrange the rest of the lot between either the relief corps or Class AAA Omaha.
It is far too early in the spring to make sweeping statements about the competition. But tabs can now be kept. Three of the four main candidates appeared in this game: Yordano Ventura battled command trouble, Luke Hochevar gave up pair of runs off a few groundball singles, and Wade Davis surrendered an opposite-field home run to outfielder Carlos Peguero.
“They were just trying to do too much,” Eiland said, “instead of just going out there and concentrating on throwing strikes. They’re trying to overthrow a little bit, trying to be too fine with their offspeed stuff. When that happens, you fall behind. You elevate the ball. But typical first spring intrasquad game.”
Danny Duffy, the fourth candidate, will appear in the Cactus League opener on Thursday. Duffy will back up Bruce Chen in that game. Veteran Brad Penny and intriguing lefty Chris Dwyer are also under consideration, though both are far more likely to start the season in the minors.
Earlier in the day, Yost was asked if he intended to remind younger players such as Ventura or Duffy not to overextend themselves too early in camp. Yost shook his head.
“I’m not going to tell them to tone it down,” he said. “They’re competing. If they do too much, and the results aren’t good, the results aren’t good. You’ve got to learn when you get into a spot when you’re competing against another player, that can’t happen. Because when you’re competing against another team, that can’t happen.
“They’ve got to learn. They’ve got to learn how to handle competition.”
At 22, Ventura is vying to become the youngest member of this club. His location was scattershot on Monday. His fastball hissed in the dry air and he snapped off a few quality curveballs, but he did not complete the inning.
Ventura faced two batters. Two walked. Billy Butler fouled off a series of pitches and worked the count full, at which point the inning was called. Ventura had already exceeded his 20-pitch limit by a few throws.
“His command was off a little bit,” Yost said. “But that’s to be expected early.”