Relaxed, confident Tejeda a focal point of 'pen

Relaxed, confident Tejeda a focal point of 'pen

Relaxed, confident Tejeda a focal point of 'pen
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Royals manager Ned Yost ponders the possibilities for his bullpen -- and he's doing a lot of that these days -- there are two names he glides right past. They're in.

Joakim Soria is one. The other is Robinson Tejeda.

The rest of the pen is a sea of uncertainty. There are 11 or 12 pitchers vying for six or seven spots.

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Soria, as a premier closer, is a lock. Tejeda earned his secure status with strong pitching last season. He had a terrible beginning -- a 12.96 ERA in his first 10 games -- but a terrific finish, posting a 2.05 ERA in his last 44 games.

"Got off to a little slow start last year but he's been great this year," Yost said. "Really focusing on his secondary pitches here in the spring and able to bang 'em for strikes. Slider and a change."

Of course Tejeda's primary pitch is a power fastball which emerges from an imposing 6-2 right-hander who weighs a solid 245 pounds.

And it's a confident, mature Tejeda -- he'll turn 29 next Thursday -- who takes the mound in his fourth season with Kansas City.

"I feel more relaxed than ever," Tejeda said. "Every time I step on the mound, even in the bullpen, I don't put any pressure on myself. I think I'm the kind of guy they need right now to help them win games."

The main difference is that Tejeda is now able to consistently throw strikes, a skill that often eluded him for years.

"You watch Robby and your impression from years past is that this is a guy that threw real hard but couldn't throw a strike," Yost said. "But he came in last year and I never worried about him throwing strikes, from the time I got there."

That's because Yost took over as manager on May 14, after Tejeda radically altered his image.

In his first 12 appearances last season, all in April, he looked like the same old Robby, walking 13 batters in 9 1/3 innings. But check this out: In his last 42 outings he also walked 13, but in 51 2/3 innings.

Such a striking improvement surely has a cause, perhaps some revolutionary change in Tejeda's delivery or mechanics.

How about it?

"Right now I'm able to control my pitches and work more in the strike zone and be more consistent and more powerful in attacking the strike zone early and late in the count," Tejeda said. "I don't know exactly what has changed. I feel normal but more consistent."

OK, let's check with pitching coach Bob McClure.

"When you believe in somebody and you keep telling them they can do it, some of 'em end up doing it," McClure said. "So all I can say is I just believed he could do it and kept telling him he could do it -- and the next thing I know, he's doing it!"

Nothing mechanical then, just mind over cowhide. Tejeda gives McClure full credit for his help.

So far this spring, Tejeda has issued no walks in four Cactus League innings (we won't count that one in an intrasquad game the other day).

"I'm not going to say I'm not going to walk anybody," Tejeda said. "I don't want to but, if it happens, it's just one hitter and I just go to work on the next guy. I don't hang my head like, 'Here we go again.' No, I just keep working and prepare mentally for the next hitter and try to get him out."

It's too soon to say that Tejeda will be the set-up man for Soria because the makeup of the bullpen is still uncertain. But he's a likely candidate.

"I don't know who else is going to be there," Yost said. "He can definitely fit that role, he can definitely do that role or a number of roles."

However, Tejeda won't be pitching in long relief.

"A two-inning guy, tops," Yost said.

The big man from Bani in the Dominican Republic has cut down on the walks, but he still gets his share of strikeouts. He had 56 in 61 innings last year, though not up to his average of 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009, second-best in franchise history to Soria's 11.72 the same year.

Now there are not quite as many strikeouts but a lot more strikes. He's learned how to dial back on that fastball when necessary.

"If you shoot with a 9mm gun, you don't feel that much power. But if you shoot with a 12mm, it's harder to handle it and hit the same spot," Tejeda said. "So that's another thing I've been learning this year -- how to shoot my gun hard when I need to and when I need to come down a little bit."

So far it's been working quite well.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.