The possibilities shrank on Sunday when rookie right-hander Luke Hochevar, considered a rotation contender, was optioned to Triple-A Omaha.
Rather than use Hochevar out of the bullpen, the Royals decided to start him regularly for Omaha. He had an impressive spring, posting a 2.25 ERA in three games and holding opponents to a .226 average.
"He had a great camp and we told him that. He just simply stated that he was going to work as hard as he can and get to the Major League club as soon as he could," manager Trey Hillman said.
Earlier, the Royals took comeback candidate Hideo Nomo out of consideration for a rotation spot. He's now vying for a relief spot.
"We don't have a final, final on four-five, though," Hillman cautioned.
Right-hander Brett Tomko, left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and right-hander Kyle Davies as well as Bale are still considered in the hunt, according to Hillman.
De La Rosa, who began last season in the rotation, will get his last shot in Arizona when he starts on Monday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bale was originally scheduled to start against the Dodgers but his status seemed to be secured when he was shifted to an afternoon outing against Minor Leaguers. No need to look at him further against Major Leaguers was the implied message.
Asked if he liked what Bale has done this spring, Hillman replied: "Yes, very much."
De La Rosa has a 7.53 ERA and opponents have hit .333 against him in three Cactus League games. He last pitched in a Minor League game and improved markedly as the game went along.
"We want to see De La Rosa in that 'A' game tomorrow night because we still have some evaluation time," Hillman said. "It is a key start for him, definitely."
Tomko has an 8.59 ERA and a batting average against of .382. He will start on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres.
Right-hander Kyle Davies, with a 4.00 ERA and a .286 average against in three games, is another candidate still in camp. He will pitch some time this week, Hillman said.
Davies has an option left, De La Rosa does not. Tomko cannot go to the Minors without his consent; at any rate, if he does not start, his power arm would be a logical bullpen fit.
Left-hander Mike Maroth, a non-roster player, had hoped to be in the picture, but he got a late start because of shoulder stiffness and has pitched only five innings. He's likely to start the season at Omaha.
"If there's more time to look at a Maroth, we'll take another look at him as well," Hillman said.
With the departure of Hochevar, the camp roster is at 43, including newly arrived non-roster right-hander Brad Salmon, obtained from the Cincinnati Reds. The Royals break camp on Thursday, leaving for two exhibition games in Milwaukee.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less