Yost taps Hochevar for Opening Day, sets staff

Yost taps Hochevar for Opening Day, sets staff

Yost taps Hochevar for Opening Day, sets staff
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Luke Hochevar will be the Opening Day starter, Vin Mazzaro will be the fifth starter, and Sean O'Sullivan will be in the bullpen.

Those were the pitching pronouncements made by Royals manager Ned Yost on a windy, wet Monday as time on Spring Training ticked down to the last eight days.

Also, rookie left-hander Mike Montgomery likely will be on the starting staff for Triple-A Omaha. He was reassigned to the Minor League camp on Monday.

Hochevar, a right-hander, will start on March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels in the opener at Kauffman Stadium. On the next three days against the Angels, the order of the rotation will be left-hander Jeff Francis, right-hander Kyle Davies and left-hander Bruce Chen.

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Because of open dates, Mazzaro won't be needed to start until April 16 against Seattle, so he'll be left off the Opening Day roster and will make two starts in Minor League games.

And there's one asterisk on the rotation in the first series against the Angels. It's possible the third-game starter could be O'Sullivan instead of Davies.

"We're still, quite frankly, building O'Sullivan up as a starter because Kyle is due to throw on April 2 against L.A. -- but also that's his wife's due date for their first child," Yost said. "So if, by some miracle, the baby comes on that due date, O'Sullivan will be stretched out enough to make that start."

Hochevar will become the eighth different Opening Day starter for the Royals in the last 10 years. Zack Greinke opened last year, and Gil Meche -- the only multi-year starter in that span -- started in 2007-09. The others were: Scott Elarton, 2006; Jose Lima, 2005; Brian Anderson, 2004; Runelvys Hernandez, 2003, and Jeff Suppan, 2002 -- in the last of his three straight openers.

"It's exciting. That's what you strive for as a starting pitcher, is to be that guy, to be counted on in that way -- and a lot expected out of you," Hochevar said.

"I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited about the opportunity to get to do that, and also the opportunity to prove myself. This year is a big year for me, and I'm excited about it. I'm ready to take the bull by the horns and go get after it."

Yost could have gone with Francis, who has started a World Series opener for Colorado, or Davies, who made 32 starts last year for the Royals, or Chen, who led the club in victories last year.

But Yost deferred to Hochevar's standing as the top current starter who came through the Royals' organization.

"Because it's his turn, it's his time," Yost said. "He's a homegrown guy, he's a guy that I thought was really making strides last year when he got hurt. And I think it's just time for him to step up. He's been a part of the Royals his whole career. I think he's ready to take that next step, and it's his time."

Hochevar, who often has seemed on the cusp of fulfilling his promise as a first-round Draft choice in 2006, last season had a 6-6 record and 4.81 ERA in 18 games. He was on the disabled list from June 16 to Sept. 3 with an elbow injury.

In the 3:10 p.m. CT opener on March 31, Hochevar will be matched against Jared Weaver, 13-12 with a 3.01 ERA last year for the Angels. It'll be the first in a parade of staff leaders he's likely to be paired against as the Royals' No. 1 starter.

"I'm going to lock horns with a lot of great pitchers," Hochevar said. "What more could you want? You want to compete against the best, and to get better you have to, so I'm looking forward to it."

Mazzaro, obtained from Oakland in the trade for outfielder David DeJesus, won the competition for the fifth-starter spot largely because O'Sullivan seemed better suited to relief duty.

"It was a real close battle," Yost said, "and you look at the two pitchers: Vinny's pitchability is very high, he commands the ball real well. But more than anything, I think it makes our pitching staff better that way because O'Sullivan is more durable, he's a guy that I can use more frequently out of the pen. I can use him long, I can use him short, and he's done it before."

Yost explained that the order of his rotation enables him to alternate his right-handed and left-handed starters to give the opposition different looks in a series.

"I wanted to break it up so we had righty, lefty, righty, lefty," Yost said. "Bruce and Francis [the lefties] are comparable. They throw from different arm angles, but they're both command guys that change speeds really, really well -- and I wanted to kind of keep a power guy in the midst of those two guys so clubs get a different look."

Montgomery was kept in the Major League camp after an impressive start last Wednesday night against Cincinnati. He was scheduled to replace Hochevar as the starter in Monday's game against Cleveland, but it was canceled because of rain.

The Royals decided to eliminate him as a candidate for the Major League bullpen.

"It's probably best to have him throwing every five days," Yost said. "Again, if he's throwing lights-out down there, and a starting spot opens ... I mean we're going to have a lot of options at Triple-A and Double-A to choose from."

Because the Royals will open the season with 12 pitchers, and Mazzaro's arrival will be deferred for more than two weeks, they can keep eight pitchers in the bullpen during that period.

Other than O'Sullivan, Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda, there are five spots still to be decided, and there are still eight pitchers competing -- right-handers Nate Adcock, Louis Coleman, Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress, Luis Mendoza and Kanekoa Texeira; and left-handers Tim Collins and Robert Fish.

"Those decisions will be tough," Yost said.

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