Kansas City Royals Welcome Back Luke Hochevar


The Kansas City Royals and dominant relief pitching have become synonymous over the past few years. Seemingly no matter what moves Dayton Moore makes to fill out the bullpen, they have worked in a truly spectacular fashion. This year has been no exception, as pitchers such as Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales and Yohan Pino (before being sent back to Omaha) have all pitched far beyond expectations.

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The excellent production by castoffs like Madson, Morales and Pino, as well as the expected production from the Royals bullpen Cerberus and Jason Frasor, has manifested itself as being the best bullpen in baseball thus far. In their 83.2 innings pitched heading into Wednesday’s games, the Royals bullpen had a 1.08 ERA and a 0.776 WHiP, both of which are the lowest in baseball. Opponents had produced a mere .155 batting average against Kansas City Royals relievers, also the lowest in the majors by a wide margin.

Yet, for as stellar as the Royals bullpen has been thus far, it could actually improve. Greg Holland is back from the disabled list, slotting Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera back into their usual roles in the seventh and eighth innings. Now, further reinforcements are coming, as Luke Hochevar has rejoined the Royals, according to Andy McCollough of the Kansas City Star.

Prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Hochevar had established himself as one of the better setup men in baseball. Sent to the bullpen after failing as a starter, Hochevar was Wade Davis before Wade Davis was Wade Davis, posting a 1.93 ERA and a 0.825 WHiP. In his 70.1 innings of work, Hochevar struck out 82 batters against only 17 walks. He earned Ned Yost‘s trust to the point that, by the end of the 2013 season, he had worked his way into an eighth inning role.

Given that Hochevar has struggled at times during his rehab assignment with the Omaha Storm Chasers, posting a 7.84 ERA and a 2.323 WHiP, his role may be limited to start as he returns to Kansas City. Not only has Hochevar been hit hard, giving up 16 hits in his 10.1 innings of work, but he has struggled with his control as well, issuing eight walks. It would certainly not seem as though he would be able to help the Royals that much upon his return.

Yet, those numbers are rather deceiving. Hochevar allowed four of those walks in one inning during his outing on April 15th, and allowed seven of the nine runs that he has given up during his outing on May 1st. As he is coming back from Tommy John surgery and has really not faced actual competition in over a year, such struggles are to be expected.

While Hochevar is likely to serve in a mopup role as he gets used to facing major league hitters once again, it would not be a surprise to see him rapidly position himself to get key outs in close ballgames in short order. Adding the potential of Hochevar to a bullpen that is already as dominant as what the Royals currently possess has to be truly frightening for the opposition. Forget the Royals looking to take turn a game into a six inning affair – with Hochevar back and healthy, any lead after five innings may prove to be safe.

He may not be the Luke Hochevar we came to know in 2013 immediately upon rejoining the Kansas City Royals, but he will not need to be. However, once Hochevar is back to form, an already stellar Royals bullpen will be that much better.

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