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Odorizzi ready for fanfare of first MLB start

Odorizzi ready for fanfare of first MLB start

Odorizzi ready for fanfare of first MLB start
KANSAS CITY -- Jake Odorizzi has spent most of his 22 years getting ready for this Sunday afternoon. He'll play in his first Major League game, the starting pitcher for the Royals against the Indians.

"It'll be a huge day. You only have one first time out there," he said. "The first time at the Major League level, I'm going to have to take a step back, take it in and then take a deep breath and throw the first pitch of the game. So I'll take it in before the first pitch and after the first pitch, it's just going to be another game."

If it's just another game, it should turn out pretty well for Odorizzi and the Royals. In his five Minor League seasons in the Milwaukee and Kansas City organizations, he's gone 34-21 with a 3.50 ERA and, oh yes, one save. In 480 2/3 innings, he's racked up 489 strikeouts against 152 bases on balls.

Odorizzi, part of the Zack Greinke trade, is expected to make a bid for Kansas City's starting rotation next spring. Meantime, manager Ned Yost just wants him to do a test run.

"This is not make-or-break, he's going to be on our team next year if he has a great start so I'm looking for nothing -- I mean I'm looking for him to go out and just compete," Yost said. "And hopefully he can get us through five or six or even into the seventh inning with the lead. But making your first Major League start, there's a lot of variables that go into it so you just want to get it out of the way."

Odorizzi started the season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but was promoted to Omaha where he was 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA in the regular season and was tutored by pitching coach Doug Henry.

"He's got some learning to do but the learning he's got to do now is what you learn up here," Henry said. "The pitches he's getting away with in the Minor Leagues, it's tough to tell somebody it's not going to work [in Major Leagues] until they actually live it. He pitches up in the zone a little too much."

Not as much as he did earlier in the season, though. Odorizzi's pitch counts were too high and Henry showed him that by getting ahead in the count and keeping the ball down, he made fewer pitches and got deeper into games.

"Where he got in trouble was that because he was up in the zone, guys were able to foul off pitches and he was going deep in counts because they were fouling balls off. So when he's getting down in the zone, they're either missing or they've got to get the bat out a little further and they're putting the ball in play and he's getting outs that way," Henry said.

Odorizzi's fastball is usually in the 91-to-92 mph range but he can reach 95. He also throws a curveball, a slider and is increasingly using the changeup.

"His changeup is becoming a pretty good pitch for him. He's starting to use that more and get more confidence in it. When he first came up, he really wasn't using much, he was mainly trying to get everybody out with his curveball," Henry said. "I think he has better command of his slider but he throws them both depending on the particular day. And he's smart enough to know which one's working better on a particular day."

Yost believes this experience will pay off for Odorizzi.

"Look at what it did for Will Smith when he came up the first time and had two or three starts. He went down and came back and was a bit of a different pitcher," Yost said. "It's just getting your feet wet, getting started, experiencing it. Because it's different."

Smith, who started against the Indians on Saturday, was 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his first three KC starts, returned to Omaha for a while. When he came back to the Royals, he went 4-6 with 4.25 in his first 11 starts.

Odorizzi's parents, Mike and Julie, will be coming in from Highland, Ill.

"I've got a good bit of family, a lot of friends, a lot of people coming over," he said. "I really haven't gotten a count but I guess I'll find out Sunday after the game."

Royals fans who have followed Odorizzi's rise will have to be at Kauffman Stadium to assess the kid because the game is not on TV.

"He should be fun to watch," Henry said.

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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