Keeping ball down the key for Hochevar

Keeping it down key for Hochevar

KANSAS CITY -- Seems like only yesterday that Luke Hochevar was brought in from Triple-A Omaha to make his first Royals start of the season.

That was back on April 20 at Oakland when he replaced left-hander John Bale, a victim of shoulder fatigue, in the rotation. Manager Trey Hillman's other option was to start a consortium of relief pitchers.

"Rather than start Johnny Whole Staff -- a bullpen start -- we'll go with him and reward him for doing very well at Spring Training and also starting well in the Triple-A season," Hillman said at the time.

Hard to believe but, on Wednesday night, Hochevar will make his 13th start since being called up. A victory over the Rockies would give the Royals a series sweep.

So far, Hochevar has held his own with a 4-5 record and 4.86 ERA. He's been the losing pitcher in a no-hitter by the Red Sox's Jon Lester and the winning pitcher in a duel with the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson.

Friday night against the Giants, Hochevar breezed through three innings and then ran into trouble. He knows what he has to do this time against the Rockies.

"Just keep the ball down," Hochevar said. "In my last start, the first three innings I cruised, and I ended up with like 11 ground-ball outs [he had 10]. And then toward the fifth, my ball just started elevating in the strike zone and I started giving up hits.

"But that's really my only adjustment, that's my thought process -- just keep the ball down and be aggressive in the strike zone."

The trick, of course, is to know how to reverse the climb when his sinking fastball starts to rise in the zone.

"For the most part if I throw a pitch up, it's pretty easy for me to get it back down -- [but] I was making those same adjustments I usually run into and still stayed consistently up," he said. "So in my side work we made a couple of adjustments, I started getting the ball out of the glove a little quicker and the ball went down. So it was pretty simple."

There's a hometown angle to his start. Hochevar was born in Denver and played baseball and basketball at Fowler High School there before moving on to the University of Tennessee.

Interleague record: 97-110 overall, 11-3 in 2008.

2008 Interleague schedule
May 16 at Marlins: Won, 7-6
May 17 at Marlins: Lost, 7-3
May 18 at Marlins: Won, 9-3
June 13 at D-backs: Lost, 1-0
June 14 at D-backs: Won, 12-3
June 15 at D-backs: Won, 8-3
June 17 at Cardinals: Won, 2-1
June 18 at Cardinals: Won, 3-2
June 19 at Cardinals: Won, 4-1
June 20 vs. Giants: Lost, 9-4
June 21 vs. Giants, Won, 5-3
June 22 vs. Giants, Won, 11-10
June 23 vs. Rockies, Won, 8-4
June 24 vs. Rockies, Won, 7-3
June 25 vs. Rockies
June 27-29 vs. Cardinals

Pitching matchup
KC: RHP Luke Hochevar (4-5, 4.86 ERA)
Hochevar ran into a command problem, one that always is troubling when it strikes, last Friday night against the Giants. His sinking fastball is wonderful when it's down in the strike zone because ground balls proliferate. When it's too far up in the zone, base hits proliferate. That was Hochevar's fate as he left in the fifth inning with the score tied at 4. He had no decision in the loss but it was disappointing after he'd pitched a convincing victory over the D-backs in his previous game. This is his first shot at the Rockies.

COL: RHP Aaron Cook (10-4, 3.57 ERA)
Cook has been the Rockies' best pitcher all season, but he proved Friday that even he's capable of bad games. Against the Mets, the 29-year-old righty gave up six runs on 12 hits in seven innings. His biggest problem was his inability to keep his sinkerball low, which allowed the Mets to score six runs after three innings. Carlos Delgado hit a two-run homer in the second, and Trot Nixon added a solo shot in the third. Cook settled down after that, however, and pitched effectively enough to remain in the game until the seventh. This will be Cook's first game against the Royals.

Crown Points
Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek was out of the Royals' lineup for the third straight day because of a sore back. ... Pitcher Brett Tomko became a free agent on Tuesday after he cleared waivers. He was 2-7 with a 6.97 ERA before being dropped by the Royals. ... Kila Kaaihue hit his 17th home run for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, tying for the Texas League lead. ... Andrew Meyer, who has been serving youth in the Ukraine for the Peace Corps, was in the Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat on Tuesday night. Meyer, from Olathe, Kan., also teaches the young Ukrainians to play baseball. ... Individual tickets are still available for the Diamond of Dreams, a benefit for Royals Charities, at 6:30 p.m. CT on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. The event benefits The Dream Factory.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
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•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN-HD

On radio
• KCSP 610

Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Royals (Gil Meche, 5-8, 4.91) vs. Cardinals (TBD), 7:10 p.m. CT
• Saturday: Royals (Kyle Davies, 3-0, 3.12) vs. Cardinals (TBD), 6:10 p.m. CT

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