Heavy hearts surround Hochevar

03/07/2014 2:43 PM

03/07/2014 3:47 PM

About anywhere but here Friday morning, a Royals follower might have heard the news about pitcher Luke Hochevar having to undergo Tommy John surgery and probably thought about the practical big-picture impact:

How will this affect the makeup of the Royals staff? And might Hochevar, under contract only for this season, have thrown his last pitch as a Royal?

There is time enough to sort out the latter, of course. And the Royals are deeply invested in sorting out their options on the first question.

They’ve got plenty of depth and have been discussing any other possibilities almost since the moment Hochevar felt the twinge in his right elbow on Monday.

From a "professional standpoint, you move on and you look for solutions, and that’s what we’re geared and directed to do," general manager Dayton Moore said.

Only losing Hochevar for the season cuts deeper than purely a professional matter, and the sadness of it all became the prevailing scene here.

And it’s easy to understand why.

As the only overall No. 1 pick the Royals ever have had, Hochevar was heavily scrutinized through no fault of his own.

His struggles were magnified by that, and he became a scapegoat as the franchise’s latest rebuilding effort was slow to take.

Then he found himself, at last, in the bullpen in 2013 as the Royals had their best season since 1989.

Finally, he had arrived as they sat on the cusp of a breakthrough.

And then … this.

"It’s been heavy on my heart the last 48 hours," Moore said.

In fact, it was hard not to feel Hochevar’s anguish watching his eyes moisten and voice crack as he described what he expects to miss.

"You want to be part of that dogpile," he said, meaning celebrating the first playoff berth since 1985.

This "couldn’t have come at a worse time," he added, not for any other reason than because the Royals are on the verge of their most-anticipated season in years.

It’s easy to be cynical and think ballplayers only are in this for the money.

But no matter what’s at stake for him financially, believe he’s sincere when he says he plays the game "to be part of something bigger than myself, and to win a World Series."

Manager Ned Yost seldom has been accused of being a sentimentalist, but he was obviously moved by Hochevar’s plight.

He called him "one of my favorite players" and a "phenomenal young man" and a "tremendous teammate." He was keenly conscious of all it had taken for Hochevar to get to this point.

"He’s been here through all the bad times," he said, "and now the good times are here. He’s endured all that as much as anybody in the locker room or more."

Yost did muster a flip side to what’s befallen Hochevar.

As much as it might hurt more for this to have happened after he had started to come into own, Yost considered how much better off he ultimately will be psychologically for finally having had that kind of season before his arm went.

But that thought seemed to offer only so much consolation for Hochevar, who said thinking about the future is the last thing on his mind now.

Later on, how Hochevar recovers and what his future holds will become the story. More immediately, who takes his spot will be a subplot of the season ahead.

But here on Friday morning, it wasn’t so much about the practical as the human and the hurt.

Then again, Yost fully expects Hochevar to be a part of the team "off the field." And maybe it will help him heal some if he gets to at least run toward a dogpile in September even if he can’t jump in it.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow on Twitter.com/vgregorian.

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