Tomko eager to 'grind' for Royals

Tomko eager to 'grind' for Royals

KANSAS CITY -- Brett Tomko's biography tells us that he's an "accomplished artist." Does that mean that he paints the corners of home plate like a Rembrandt? Or, more appropriately, like a Maddux?

"I wish I painted the corners as well as I actually paint," he said. "I majored in art at college so my plan before baseball got in the way was to be a graphic artist."

Tomko works in charcoal, acrylic paints and water colors -- but that's after a game when he wants to relax. Between the white lines, his brush strokes are more intense.

"I consider myself kind of a grinder. I go out there and throw hard -- low- to mid-90s, slider, cutter, changeup," he said.

Those are the most pertinent tools for Kansas City fans to know about because Tomko is now in the running for a spot in the Royals' rotation. A free agent, he was signed on Monday to a one-year contract worth $3 million plus $1.5 million in incentives.

A right-hander with 11 years in the Majors, Tomko, 34, figures to compete for a slot in the rotation behind Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke.

That's manager Trey Hillman's plan for Tomko, although he's done a lot of relief work as well in the last two seasons.

Tomko entertained several offers this winter. He got a big one from a Japanese team and an intriguing one from his original club, the Cincinnati Reds. But the Royals prevailed, primarily due to a barrage of phone calls from general manager Dayton Moore, pitching coach Bob McClure and Hillman.

"Trey called me all the time. He called me just to see what I was doing -- whether I was going to the movies or having dinner." Tomko said. "The phone calls, as silly as it sounds, made a huge difference in how I felt about where I was going to sign,"

For his part, Hillman liked what he heard coming from his cell phone.

"I do have a little bit of ability to read character and to read passion and there's some passion in this veteran arm's voice when I talked to him," Hillman said.

Tomko's Major League record with six clubs reads 93-92 and the ERA is 4.62 in 346 games (250 starts). Last year, though, was bleak. With the Los Angeles Dodgers, he lost his rotation job, went 2-11 and his ERA was 5.80.

Hot Stove

"I was mopping up games, couldn't get in a rhythm and it snowballed. It got to the point my habits were so bad, I couldn't figure it out," he said.

The Dodgers released him in late August.

He went home to Poway, Calif., and worked out with his brother Scott and a high school buddy. The Dodgers had changed his delivery and his velocity dropped alarmingly.

"We just stripped down my mechanics, went back to my first 10 years in the big leagues and just tried to throw what was natural for me. It was night-and-day," Tomko said.

Meantime, the San Diego Padres called, seeking his help for their stretch run.

"I came back to San Diego, my velocity was back up to the low- to mid-90s and when I got back to starting, it was like a whole new pitcher," he said. "It was nice because, for a moment, I thought I lost it. There was a point during the season when it was like maybe I'm just done, maybe the gas tank is just on empty."

But, in seven games -- four starts -- for the Padres in September, Tomko was 2-1 with a 4.61 ERA and he had 26 strikeouts and just six walks in 27 1/3 innings.

"Last year was a bad year and I know a lot of people out there maybe thought I lost it, but I've got a lot to prove," he said. "And I started, I think, the last month to prove it."

Hillman likes Tomko's history of being able to grind out a lot of innings -- he's been at 190 innings or more in five seasons. Although Hillman likes Tomko as a starter, the fact that he could also provide a power arm in relief is also a plus.

"Regardless of the way it falls, he's going to be a very solid veteran addition to our staff," Hillman said. "We'll see in Spring Training if anybody can come to the forefront and bump him to a bullpen spot. The versatility is nice to have ... It makes us a stronger staff."

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