Is It Time To Give Up On Hochevar?

Feeling pretty good about Alex Gordon right now? Do you think he’s turned a corner on his career? Well, before you cast your all-star vote for Gordon, remember how you felt about six months ago. Or a year ago. Or two years ago. Weren’t you calling him a disappointment? A wasted draft pick? A career AAAA star?

We’re all quite excited to see him succeed, for his sake as much as ours. It hurts to watch a guy fail in spite of lofty expectations.

Well, we’ve got another such case on our hands in Luke Hochevar. And right now it hurts to watch.

After another night in which his ERA creeps closer to 9.00, are you about ready to write off the former #1 pick in the draft?

Last night was pretty much a disaster. Our “ace” was once again battered, this time in a 9-4 loss to the division leading Cleveland Indians.

But more indicative of the frustration with Luke would be his outing against Cleveland on April 20, when he spun five perfect innings, only to blow a gasket in the sixth.

I missed the first five innings of Luke’s last start. (That’s right, I don’t have DVR or DirecTV. I actually have to watch sports in real time!) I walked in and turned the game on just as he recorded the last out, just as they put up on the screen a list of the four no-hitters thrown by KC pitchers.

So I missed seeing the dominance. What I was in time to see, however, was the two balks in the sixth, the back-to-back walks to lead off the seventh, and several hits in between.

It is in times like that I find myself saying the same things about Luke that I said about Gordon. “He was a wasted draft pick.” “He’s never going to get it.” “We should give up on him and try someone else a try.”

I am as sick as anyone of watching Luke underachieve. More than once I’ve been ready to throw in the towel on the guy.

But watching Gordon this year has caused me to reign in my impatience a bit.

Remember, Luke wasn’t supposed to be the ace of a World Series winner this year anyway. Don’t let the Royals’ decent start distort your expectations for this season. We weren’t planning on winning this year. Remember?

This is the year of auditions for 2012 and 2013. The guys in the rotation this year are making their case to be included in the pitching staff of the future. That staff will hopefully feature guys currently honing their craft at Omaha and Northwest Arkansas. But most of those young studs are still a year or more away.

We can assume Luke will be given every chance to outlast the Mazzaros, the Chens, the Davies and the Francises. He’s going to be around for a while.

Luke is still relatively cheap. He’s only costing the Royals $1.76 million this year (a bargain compared to Davies!). He will be eligible for arbitration in 2012, but won’t be a free agent until 2015. With both time and money on their side, the Royals should settle in for the long haul with Hochevar.

That doesn’t make it any less frustrating to watch. Seeing Luke balk away a masterful five innings, I said “It’s all in his head. He’s lost it.”

But wasn’t that basically true about Gordon? Wasn’t the pressure and repeated failure eating away at him when he was sent down last year?

One thing that happened with Gordon was that the spotlight was taken off him last year. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and baseball’s number one minor league system suddenly stole the headlines. Fans stopped caring about the current Royals team and started buying into the future.

That shift allowed Gordon to go to work with Kevin Seitzer in private, without mountains of pressure being heaped on him. The same could happen with Luke, as fans shift all their hopes onto Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy and John Lamb.

So let’s settle in for the long haul with Luke and hope he has a Gordon-like epiphany. Let’s hope, like Gordon, he works long and hard, receives good coaching and finally masters that talent he obviously possesses.

After all, anyone who can throw five perfect innings against a contending team shouldn’t just be kicked to the curb.

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