Bannister believes in his approach

Bannister believes in his approach

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Brian Bannister was pitching with a new number, 19, to honor his father -- ex-big league pitcher Floyd Bannister -- who was sitting in the stands on Sunday.

Brian had a new glove from Japan, a brighter blue than the models he'd used in previous years. "It's a Smurf blue," he said. And he was in a new position, established as the Royals' No. 2 starter.

But Bannister was the same style of pitcher -- throwing strikes and pitching to contact and using his fielders. This was his first Cactus League game this spring and he was admittedly rusty against the Texas Rangers.

"I had a goal, and that was to throw as few pitches as possible and not walk anybody and not give up extra-base hits," Bannister said.

"I was wild today, I'll admit that. And I decided to be wild in the zone instead of walking people. I've learned from my past experience that results in a more active defense and you get your team back in the dugout and hopefully they'll score some runs for you."

Bannister became the first Royals' pitcher to go three innings. He surrendered four runs on seven hits. But there were no walks and the only extra-base hit, Josh Hamilton's double, came because left fielder Mark Teahen lost the ball in the sun.

And the Royals did score some runs for him, rallying to take a 5-4 lead in the fourth inning. That lead didn't hold up as the Rangers came back to win, 8-7.

All in all, though, Bannister was pretty satisfied.

"But I'm not sharp yet, so my pitch that should have been on the corner was a couple inches over the plate today and that's why we're here for a month before we go play for real," he said.

"They got a little more bat on it than normally. When you miss, that's what you expect."

Bannister said that he's not normally comfortable in Spring Training because it doesn't benefit his contact style.

"Balls can go haywire, balls can get lost in the sun and there's a lot of things that can happen," he said.

Bannister threw 44 pitches in his three innings, not bad considering he faced 15 batters and there were seven hits.

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"I wanted to stay on a pace where, if I had gone the whole game, I could still pitch seven or eight innings," he said. "That's what I'm looking for because that's going to translate into the season."

Bannister describes himself as a streaky pitcher and the proof can be seen in his 2007 season. He began 0-3. From June 1 through Sept. 2 he had a 12-4 record and was touted as an American League Rookie of the Year candidate. But he struggled in the last month and didn't win again.

"At the end of last year, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be successful -- in the running for the Rookie of the Year Award. And I was also 30 innings past where I'd ever gone before as a pitcher," he said.

"There were a lot of factors involved and [pitching coach Bob] McClure saw that my mechanics were breaking down a little bit. I was trying to generate the velocity but my body was getting tired."

Still, he had an excellent season and the Royals are counting on him heavily this year.

Bannister knows there are students of baseball statistics that doubt his ability to repeat his success because of his pitch-to-contact, low-strikeout style. He studies statistics, too.

"I've spoken with a lot of those guys. I'm well aware of all those opinions of me. I'm working with the same set of data," he said.

Bannister firmly believes in himself and his approach.

"As long as balls aren't clearing the fence by 50 feet, I'm doing OK," he said. "I know exactly what I am and I think I'm very good at being that."

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