Royals eager for more from Hochevar

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost views Luke Hochevar as a big winner in the majors. It just hasn’t happened yet.

Hochevar was the first player chosen in the 2006 draft — the same year the San Francisco Giants selected two time National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum 10th overall — but he has a 19-32 record with a 5.60 ERA in 69 games in the majors.

The 27-year-old Hochevar has never had a winning season or won more than seven games in a season, but he is the leading candidate to be the Royals’ opening day starter with Zack Greinke traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and Gil Meche retiring with a shoulder injury.

Yost, however, sees Hochevar as a consistent 15- to 20-game winner.

“In my estimation, in my opinion, I just think that’s the case,” Yost said. “He’s the No. 1 pick and he’s a guy who has got great stuff and is continuing to develop his game, improve his game and make his game more consistent as a pitcher.

“Time does that for guys who are in the big leagues for the first couple of years. That’s the things they go through to get that stage of their career. But Hoch is knocking on the door to where he to the point to be able to compete every single game.”

Hochevar said he “absolutely” agrees he is on the threshold of winning at least 15 games in the majors.

“If you don’t see yourself winning a bunch of games, you’re not going to do it,” Hochevar said. “I see myself doing that. More importantly, I see us going to the playoffs. If you don’t dream it, you don’t believe it.”

Yost said Hochevar was on the verge of being a very good pitcher when an elbow injury shelved him for two months.

“He was really coming, but health plays an important factor in development of players,” Yost said.

Hochevar’s record was 5-2 after winning May 26 over Texas, holding the Rangers to two runs and six hits in eight innings.

“The first part of the season I felt like everything was just clicking,” Hochevar said. “I felt that things were coming together. I think that really comes with experience. I talked with Zack a lot about his path, a lot of things he picked up as he went.

“He told me it was just experience, just being out there time and time again. I really feel like that was it. You get in those tough situations and you get comfortable with the uncomfortable because you’ve been there and you’ve done it, you’ve faced the hitters, you know the hitters, you know yourself more especially at this level and it’s a comfort level you get too.”

After beating the Rangers, Hochevar took batting practice at Fenway Park to prepare the pitchers for hitting in June interleague games. The Green Monster offered an inviting target. He swung hard and knocked one off the wall.

“But it was definitely not worth two months on the disabled list,” Hochevar said.

He made his next three starts, but went 0-2. After being pulled after four innings, allowing four runs on six hits in four innings on June 11 at Cincinnati, Hochevar went on the DL the next day.

“I just figured it was one of those things you’d get sore and you throw through,” Hochevar said. “I didn’t want to panic about anything. And then it progressively got worse. I stopped taking batting practice, but then it was too late.”

He returned Sept. 13 and went 1-2 in four September starts.

“It’s just been a process and a development for me, kind of finding my own,” Hochevar said. “Last year I felt like I did. I’m excited about this year, just keep it rolling into this year. Staying healthy, durability and pitching deep into games, that’s the biggest part.”

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