It’s been a bumpy and inconsistent ride for Luke Hochevar, the former 2006 No. 1 overall draft pick. Except for a few bullpen outings early in his career, Hochevar was a starter for the Royals since 2008. With the team’s upgrades to the starting rotation, Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza were in competition for the fifth starting spot. But after two spring starts, the Royals made the decision to move Hochevar to the bullpen.
It wasn’t like Hochevar made a case for being the fifth starter. In two spring starts, Hochevar pitched eight innings and gave up six earned runs, six walks, two home runs and eight strikeouts with a 6.75 ERA. It’s only two starts, but it’s clear Hochevar’s spring struggles influenced the Royals to move him to the bullpen.
Royals Manager Ned Yost put a positive spin on the move, saying it gives Hochevar a chance to help the Royals win every day instead of every five days. But the last few years, Hochevar hasn’t given the Royals many chances to win every five days as a starter.
The Royals see Hochevar as a late-inning setup man, joining Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow for closer Greg Holland. The team believes having Hochevar pitch one or two innings and getting acclimated to the bullpen during Spring Training will improve his consistency on the mound.
But will moving Hochevar to the bullpen make a difference? The frustrating thing about Hochevar’s meltdowns was they didn’t always happen after pitching a few innings. One start, he might melt down in the first inning. Another start, he might fall apart after three or four innings. Or in another start, he might pitch seven or eight masterful innings, getting the win. When Hochevar took the mound, you didn’t know which Hochevar would show up.
Hochevar has some advantages. He’s durable, and when he’s on, he’s almost unhittable. And having Hochevar face fewer batters and being “on call” to pitch every day might sharpen his mental focus and improve his consistency.
The team made the logical decision and moved Hochevar to the bullpen. The Royals weren’t going to release Hochevar and it’s unlikely he would go to AAA Omaha. And he doesn’t have much trade value, at least for now. The team has nothing to lose by doing this and it could be a move that resurrects his career. Or it could be Hochevar’s last gasp in a so far inconsistent, disappointing Major League career. For the good of the team and Hochevar, I hope this works out.