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Nomo yet to write final chapter

Nomo yet to write final chapter

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was no surprise to see Hideo Nomo coming out of the training room, holding a blue ice pack to his right leg, in the visitors' clubhouse on Saturday morning.

"No pain at all," Nomo said later.

Nomo, as expected, rejoined the Royals after a week-long sojourn to Arizona to get over a right groin strain. Officially now, he has made the Major League roster as a member of the bullpen.

The Royals purchased his contract from the roster of Idaho Falls, their Rookie League club, where he'd been stashed while rehabbing at the Surprise, Ariz., camp.

"Yeah, Hideo's back," manager Trey Hillman said. "He's deemed healthy, he feels good and we want to see if he can continue to miss bats with the same frequency he did in Spring Training. We need to find out sooner than later."

Hillman said Nomo, a starter throughout his career, will pitch in long relief.

Because of catcher Miguel Olivo's suspension, the Royals had just 24 players for the first four games and operated with 11 pitchers instead of 12. The bullpen, though, wasn't strained because the starters all went deep in those four games.

"We made it through four games being minus a pitcher and using [No. 5 starter Brett] Tomko in the 'pen. Now we feel like we've got a breath of fresh air and an extra pitcher down there," Hillman said.

It's been a long, hard haul for the 39-year-old Japanese right-hander, who instigated "Nomo-mania" as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995. He had a 3 1/2-year fling there, then began a nomadic trail that took him to the New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, back to the Dodgers and, finally, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005.

"All I can do is keep my body healthy and continue to play. It's been a while since 2005 and I look forward to throwing and to going to the playoffs," Nomo said through translator Shingo Matsubara.

Playoffs! The guy has positive thoughts, that's for sure.

His latest surgery, on his right elbow, came in 2006. He went to Venezuela to pitch, with middling results, last winter. The Royals, having just signed reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, invited Nomo to camp as a companion, advisor and, oh yes, a candidate for the pitching staff.

"We really didn't bring him in just for baby-sitting services for Yabu," Hillman said. "It's a nice advantage to have also because it provides some cultural comfort in a foreign situation for Yabu, but that wasn't why Hideo was brought in."

"The fork[ball] was of great interest, because when it's on, it changes two or three hitting planes and it's difficult for even the best hitters to follow that. And it's still there. It's there at less a velocity, but it's still there nonetheless."

Sure enough, Nomo started looking pretty good in camp. He worked hard. The Royals eliminated him from the rotation but put him in the bullpen picture.

One major change was that Nomo got rid of the distinctive twisting windup -- the "Tornado" -- that helped make him famous in the United States. Now he pitches strictly from the stretch.

"I tried pitching from the stretch before I went to Venezuela," Nomo said. "The windup position puts more stress on the elbow. I found that out."

In seven games this spring, he had a 4.80 ERA but was striking out people with regularity -- 17 K's in 15 innings with just three walks. Then, on March 25, he suffered a groin pull in Cactus League game and was put on the shelf. Just temporarily, as it turned out.

"He got in better shape, his arm came back and reportedly his body feels as good as it has in the last several years," Hillman said. "So that's a big plus for him and a big bonus for us."

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

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