Hochevar to start opener for Royals

Yost says Francis, Davies and Chen will follow in rotation

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Luke Hochevar was picked Monday to start the Kansas City Royals’ season opener March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Hochevar said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to get to do that and also the opportunity to prove myself. I think this year is a big year for me. I’m excited about it.”

Hochevar was 6-6 with a 4.81 ERA in 18 games last year. He missed 21⁄2 months with a right elbow strain.

The right-hander was the first player selected in the 2006 amateur draft.

“It’s his time,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s a homegrown guy. He’s a guy I thought was really making strides last year when he got hurt. I think it’s his time to step up. I think he’s ready to take that next step.

“He hasn’t shown me anything that he can’t do this. I came in with an open mind, put them all together and see if anybody stands out. I think we’ve got a real good group of starters. Hoch didn’t do anything that would make me change my thinking.”

Yost said Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen, in that order, would start the next three games in the opening series against the Angels. Chen led the club with 12 wins last season.

“I wanted to break them up righty, lefty, righty, lefty,” Yost said. “Bruce and Francis are comparable. They throw from different arm angles, but they are both command guys and change speeds. I wanted to put a power guy in the midst of the two.”

The manager added Vin Mazzaro would be the team’s fifth starter. He isn’t slated to make his first start until April 16 because of three early off days.

Mazzaro was 6-8 with a 4.27 ERA last season with Oakland. He won the final slot over Sean O’Sullivan, who will open the season in an eight-man bullpen. Davies’ wife is expecting their first child April 2, the date he is scheduled to start. If Davies misses that game, Yost said O’Sullivan would start.

O’Sullivan was 3-6 with a 6.11 ERA in 14 games, 13 of them starts, in 2010 with Kansas City.

Hochevar was supposed to pitch Monday against Cleveland, but the game was rained out. He is slated to throw about 90 pitches in a minor-league game today.

Hochevar said he is eager to face other No. 1 starters this season.

“I’m not sitting looking back and saying, ‘I’ve got to face No. 1s now,’” Hochevar said. “I’m not looking at it like that. I want to go out and lock horns with those guys. You want to compete against the best. To get better you have to. I’m looking forward to it.”

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