KANSAS CITY -- Increasingly, Luke Hochevar is catching onto this relief gig.
The big right-hander, a starter throughout his career, was moved to the bullpen with the influx of new starting pitchers, and he appeared in his ninth game on Thursday night at Baltimore. With the Royals ahead, 6-2, he reeled through a perfect ninth to finish the game. It wasn't a save situation, but it gave him a taste of a late-inning finish with the game fairly close.
"When you're playing a team like Baltimore or you're playing teams at the top of the division and you have the lead, you want to go with your best pitchers," manager Ned Yost said. "And to be able to put him in that spot, it's just a little progression. Yeah, he had a bit of a safety net because if he puts two guys on, here comes Holly [closer Greg Holland], but still, he's making great strides. It's not that he can't do it, it's just getting him accustomed to the situations."
Last Sunday against Chicago, Hochevar pitched two perfect innings, the eighth and ninth. The Royals tied the score, 5-5, in the ninth and won in the 10th, with Holland getting the victory.
"It's a little different. You're usually coming in in a situation -- with runners on, or in a tight game," Hochevar said.
Now that he's not starting, Hochevar finds himself able to unload his entire arsenal right away instead of perhaps holding something back for the next time or two that he'll face a batter. In relief, there aren't many second or third times around.
"I feel more that I'm coming out with everything rather than saving a pitch, holding a pitch or using a pitch to set somebody up," Hochevar said. "You still have to make quality pitches."
So far, so good. For the 12 1/3 innings that Hochevar had pitched prior to the Yankees series, his ERA was 0.73 with 13 strikeouts.
Yost really wants to see how Hochevar progresses in relief, so if he ever needs to reach into the bullpen for a starter, he's more likely to tap left-hander Bruce Chen instead of Hochevar.
"I'm not going to take him out of the bullpen just to start him again, no," Yost said. "But if there's a need, yeah, we'd consider it. But we'd have to get there. That's a tough question to answer."