Patience, protection at heart of Royals' 8-man 'pen idea

KC unsure how Rule 5 Draft pick Gustave will fit in, when Hochevar will be fully recovered

Patience, protection at heart of Royals' 8-man 'pen idea

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals began internal discussions about carrying eight pitchers in the bullpen this season as far back as December, shortly after they picked up right-hander Jandel Gustave, a hard-throwing right-hander acquired in the Rule 5 Draft.

Gustave reportedly throws harder than Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera, who can top out at around 101 mph.

Gustave, though, is unrefined -- he has averaged an alarming 6.7 walks per nine innings in the Minors. To carry him on the 25-man roster for the whole season, which is required to keep Rule 5 players, would require patience. And protection.

Thus, the possibility of an eight-man bullpen.

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"Sure, it's possible," manager Ned Yost said. "That's one of the things we will be discussing during spring."

The conversation likely is to come up Thursday as Yost meets with his coaching staff during an off-day for the players. Although pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report, Yost said there would be no workout, voluntary or not.

The first official workout for pitchers and catchers will be Friday.

Yost and his staff have another reason to ponder an eight-man bullpen -- the health and recovery of right-hander Luke Hochevar, who is coming off Tommy John surgery from last March.

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Hochevar, who would add a vital element to the bullpen, is on schedule and has thrown off the mound twice in the past week. But there are no guarantees Yost will be able to turn him loose for consecutive days once the regular season starts.

"We've got to take it slow with Luke," Yost said. "And we have to consider having some protection for him, so it's possible we would do that with an eight-man 'pen. We'll see how Luke is this spring."

An eight-man bullpen would limit the Royals' position players to 12, with just three players on the bench. That, however, likely wouldn't be an inconvenience because Kansas City will likely only utilize three bench players anyway -- catcher Erik Kratz, utility infielder Christian Colon and speedy backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson.

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jflanagankc. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.