"It's tough to catch my breath and it's tough to breathe," he rasped.
Hochevar, the Royals' prize rookie pitcher, came out of Tuesday night's 9-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians after making two warm-up pitches before the sixth inning. On the first toss, a muscle caught in his right side.
"It just grabbed me," he said. "Nothing I ever had before, so it just kind of caught me by surprise."
Hochevar shrugged it off and tried to throw again. No good. Alarmed, catcher Miguel Olivo alerted the dugout and manager Trey Hillman and assistant athletic trainer Frank Kyte immediately arrived and took out the young pitcher.
The injury was described as muscular tightness in the right side of the rib cage. Afterward, Hillman clearly was concerned.
"He had a tweak and it's not in the oblique, it's higher," Hillman said. "It was over the back side of the rib cage. We're not going to know anything definitive until tomorrow."
Hochevar, asked if he thought he could make his next start, said only, "Well, we'll see."
Hillman wouldn't even speculate on how long the top Draft choice in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft might be out or how serious the injury might be.
"Generally when somebody feels something muscular and it's a pitcher, generally that is not a good sign," Hillman said. "But I don't want to be the grim reaper until we evaluate it tomorrow."
All this came after Hochevar began the game grandly with a quick 1-2-3 first inning, only to skid into a three-run second inning. Shin-Soo Choo teed off with a solo home run, followed by three more hits that thrust the Indians ahead, 3-1.
The Royals had jumped ahead of Indians starter Anthony Reyes when Mike Aviles opened the game with a walk and scored on David DeJesus' double.
"It was one of those momentum swings," DeJesus said. "We had it going and it seems when we lose it, it's hard to get that back for us."
That's certainly been the case lately. The Royals have lost 10 of their last 12 games. They have lost three straight and stand 1-6 on the trip. The loss also meant that they won't pass the Indians in the American League Central standings during this visit. To do that, the Royals would have had to sweep the three-game series.
Once the Indians went ahead, the game slipped out of reach. Ryan Garko led off the fourth with another homer off Hochevar.
Leo Nunez relieved Hochevar and, grooving a changeup, yielded a three-run homer to Grady Sizemore, his 28th. Kip Wells made his Royals debut and got through one scoreless inning, but gave up two runs in the eighth.
The Royals had just as many hits, 13, as the Indians. Olivo had three of those hits and each of the top four batters had two hits. But they couldn't match the Tribe's three homers.
"The difference in our hits is they mixed in some slug hits," Hillman said. "We had one slug hit, David's double in the first inning."
More than the pall of defeat hung over this game for the Royals, though. Their 24-year-old rookie right-hander was hurting and nobody was sure how bad it might be.
The breathless Hochevar tried to see a bright side.
"It was nothing in my shoulder and nothing in my elbow," he said. "It's just something in my rib cage that just grabbed me."
Hillman was worried because the injury was in the torso, the area where a pitcher twists and turns and tosses.
"That's usually not a good thing," Hillman said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.