Luke Hochevar sloshed coffee inside a cup and stared out into a mostly empty Royals clubhouse. On Sunday morning, he found himself fewer than three months away from the latest milestone in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. In September, he hopes to throw a baseball for the first time since tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in March.
Two weeks ago, Hochevar was cleared to resume lifting weights with his upper body. He added those activities to the daily slate of running and exercises to strengthen his surgically repaired arm.
“After I had surgery, I just wanted to get out of the brace,” Hochevar said. “Then when I got out of the brace, and I was just moving my arm and doing stuff, then I wanted to start working out. Now that I’m working out, I want to start throwing.”
The injury occurred at a most inopportune time for both Hochevar and the Royals. The team lost a critical component of its bullpen, one they paid $5.21 million for 2014. Hochevar lost a chance to showcase himself heading into free agency. There is a chance for a reunion between the two parties next year, but it is far too soon to speculate.
For now, the loss stings both sides. Heading into the season, the Royals intended to pair Hochevar with Wade Davis for a wipeout setup duo in front of closer Greg Holland. Davis has shined this season and could join Holland at next month’s All-Star Game. Hochevar could have stabilized the bullpen’s middle, which has been shaky at times.
The surgery requires at least a year of rehabilitation. So, instead, Hochevar completes his rehab exercises and watches his teammates from the bench and on television.
Hochevar accompanied the Royals to Chicago and Detroit last week, as part of their annual Father’s Day trip. Before he underwent surgery, Hochevar lamented he wouldn’t be able to contribute to a team capable of winning its division. Manager Ned Yost sought to keep Hochevar involved within the context of the season.
“I’m focused on the 25 guys (on the roster),” Yost said in Chicago. “But I’m also focused on him. Because he’s been an important part of this whole rebuilding thing. I don’t want him to not feel a part of it.”
Hochevar appreciates that. But he understands there is only so much he can do. He talks about the game often with his teammates, but, he explained, “You can’t reinvent the game on the DL.”
“It’s kind of a funny spot,” Hochevar said. “You’re here. But you really can’t contribute. But you just try to do as much as you can to help. Which isn’t very much at all.”
Hochevar laughed as he completed his thought. This season has been difficult for him, he conceded. But he tries to avoid becoming hidden in plain sight. Throwing a baseball again will aid his psyche.
“I’ve watched every game,” Hochevar said. “Yeah, it’s been tough. Looking forward to doing some other stuff and get back out there, for sure.”
Yost shuffles lineup
Royals second baseman Omar Infante hit sixth Monday after batting in the top of the team’s order for much of this season.
“Omar is one of our better hitters with runners in scoring position,” Yost said. “But he hasn’t had many opportunities to take advantage of that. … He understands what he needs to do in those spots. And we want to try to take more advantage of that experience.”
Infante is having one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, but he entered Monday batting .309 with men in scoring position.