Chen tabbed as Royals' Opening Day starter

Chen tabbed as Royals' Opening Day starter

Chen tabbed as Royals' Opening Day starter
PHOENIX -- Left-hander Bruce Chen pitched his way out of the Spring Training doldrums and into his first start as an Opening Day pitcher.

Royals manager Ned Yost announced after Tuesday's game that Chen would start the April 6 opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim. Right-hander Luke Hochevar will start the second game and left-hander Jonathan Sanchez the third game of the opening series.

"I think Bruce can keep us in ballgames against No. 1 starters, and then we've got Hoch and Sanchy coming up behind him that'll keep us in ballgames against No. 2 and No. 3 starters," Yost said. "So we like the way it sets up. It keeps our balance between left-right and Bruce deserves it, he earned it."

Yost noted that the selection of Chen meant that Hochevar would be in line to start the Royals' home opener on April 13 against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Hochevar started his first Opening Day last year and lost to the Angels, 4-2, in Kansas City.

The choice also means the Royals will give the Angels a left-right-left look in pitchers for the series.

Yost has not announced his fourth and fifth starters who would pitch in the first games of a three-game series in Oakland. But he's likely to choose between right-handers Luis Mendoza and Felipe Paulino and left-hander Danny Duffy for the last two spots.

Chen, 34, trotted out his overhand fastball for the first time this year and had a good outing in Tuesday's 9-7 victory over the Brewers. He had entered the game with a 15.00 ERA and Yost was waiting to see improvement before announcing his Opening Day choice.

In the first six innings, Chen held the Brewers to one run on Mat Gamel's homer while notching six strikeouts. When Jonathan Lucroy singled and Alex Gonzalez homered to start the seventh, Chen was relieved by Tim Collins.

Chen, knocked around in three of his previous four starts, had been working with his offspeed pitches and various arm angles in those games. But on Tuesday his plan was different.

"He hadn't incorporated his 87, 88 mile-an-hour fastball from up top all spring long," Yost said. "That's the last thing that he incorporates and he broke it out today. Everything else works off of that."

Chen's career was on shaky ground after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007 and missing the '08 season. But the Royals gave him a shot in '09, and he became their top winner in the last two seasons with 12 victories in each year.

"I'm very proud of the way I've developed, and the way I've put myself in this position," Chen said. "But I have to be grateful to my teammates, they play every hard every time we go out there. I have to be grateful to the Kansas City Royals organization because they had trust in me, they believed in me when other teams didn't want to."

Chen was a free agent after each of the last two seasons, but re-signed with the Royals each time.

"That's why I signed back with Kansas City, because I wanted to bring a championship," he said.