Luke Hochevar pitched with a torn ulnar collateral ligament for years, from the summer of 2010 all the way to the day last March when he felt a pinch in his arm during a spring training outing.
The injury forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the duration of Kansas City’s World Series run. It also strengthened his resolve to remain with this club, even after his first foray into free agency.
Hochevar, the 31-year-old right-hander, inked a two-year, $10 million deal with the Royals earlier this week. The team also includes a mutual option for 2017. But team officials are hopeful Hochevar can replicate his bullpen dominance from 2013, when he struck out 10.5 batters per nine innings with a 1.92 ERA.
Hochevar has yet to experience a setback during his recovery. He has maintained contact with the club’s training staff. His message to them is optimistic.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“I keep telling them over and over again, ‘I feel better now then before I had surgery,’” Hochevar said. “That’s a good sign. Hopefully it just continues this way.”
Hochevar expects begin throwing bullpen sessions by early January. He is currently limited to playing catch. He plans to test out his changeup for the first time next week. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but the team will be cautious with him during spring training.
Here in the winter, Hochevar serves multiple purposes for Kansas City. He provides another hard-throwing arm to the team’s bullpen, a late-game quintet which features Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Jason Frasor. Hochevar also acts as protection if the club opts to deal either Holland or Davis.
Last season was bittersweet for Hochevar. He watched the team’s staggering run from the dugout, unable to contribute.
“It was one of the toughest things that I’ve done — or not done,” he said with a chuckle. “Put it that way. I knew it was our time to pop. To sit there and watch, I’ll put it to you this way: I’d rather experience what we experienced, this year, hurt, then never experience it at all, healthy.
“But in the same sense, when you’re watching it, you’re playing for a World Championship, it’s hard to not sit there and say ‘Man, I wish I had the ball.’”
Wakamatsu stays on bench
Don Wakamatsu finished as the runner-up in Tampa Bay’s managerial search and will remain as Ned Yost’s bench coach in 2015. The Rays hired Cleveland bullpen coach Kevin Cash to replace Joe Maddon, Fox Sports reported on Friday afternoon.
Wakamatsu was not the only candidate with Royals ties. Raul Ibañez, the third finalist, removed himself from the competition due to concerns about the distance from his family. Ibañez lives in the Seattle area.
General manager Dayton Moore has spoken with Ibañez about staying with Kansas City in a non-playing capacity in the future. Ibañez received raves for his presence and leadership with his younger teammates during the second half of 2014.