"We wanted to do what we felt like was the right thing to do," said Hillman, who reduced the number of bullpen candidates by one Sunday when he sent right-hander Ryan Braun to Minor League camp. "With less than two weeks left in Arizona and if he felt like he wanted to go elsewhere and compete for a starting role, we wanted to make sure he was comfortable that he had the option to do that."
Hillman told Nomo, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2005, that the Royals had pitchers Kyle Davies, John Bale, Brett Tomko, Luke Hochevar and Jorge De La Rosa ahead of him in their pecking order for the two starting slots left in the rotation.
"Our evaluation was he doesn't project in front of those five candidates that we have," Hillman said.
But Hillman said he offered Nomo a chance to compete for a bullpen spot, where his experience could also benefit the youthful Royals. Nomo had shown enough in camp that Hillman felt the bullpen role might also suit the onetime starter.
"We like his ability to continue to miss bats," Hillman said of Nomo. "We like this ability to pitch and locate his fastball, and we like what he brings to the table from an experienced, right-handed pitcher.
"You always want to strongly consider pitchers that have the ability to miss bats."
He pointed to Nomo's outing Saturday. In four innings, Nomo struck out seven. His performance in that outing was similar to what he's shown through Spring Training, Hillman said.
While he isn't looking at Nomo as a closer necessarily, the Royals manager didn't rule out the possibility of Nomo sliding into that spot on occasion. From time to time, a team's closer does need a day off, Hillman said.
Nomo, who declined to comment, could be that fill-in closer for Hillman.
He said he put that scenario in front of Nomo during their discussion Sunday, and Hillman said he then asked Nomo, the National League Rookie of the Year in 1995, what he wanted to do: Is this a starter-or-nothing situation for him?
"His reaction to that was, 'I like the atmosphere very much, I like the coaching here very much, and I want to continue to compete, and if it's a bullpen role, that's fine with me,'" Hillman said.