Right-hander Luke Hochevar, eternally inconsistent as a starter, is shifting, at least temporarily, to the Royals’ bullpen.
Manager Ned Yost announced the move Wednesday morning prior to a game against Seattle at Surprise Stadium.
“I think it makes us a better team,” Yost said. “I think it makes us a stronger team. It gives us a better chance to win every day. With three weeks left, I want to get him acclimated to that role.”
The decision leaves Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza as the primary competitors for the fifth spot in the rotation behind James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis.
Plans call for Hochevar to pitch as a reliever in Friday’s game against San Diego at Surprise Stadium.
“I’m willing to take the ball in any position that I can to help the club,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. Whether it’s starting or in relief, whatever it is, my role is not important.
“What’s important is that when I take the ball, I’m helping the club.”
Yost said he did not envision Hochevar, 29, as a long reliever but rather a power arm capable of pitching in the late innings as a setup man with Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow for closer Greg Holland.
“Hoch is a guy who can go long,” Yost said, “but, right now, I think he’s a guy who can pitch in the seventh or eighth inning. That’s why we can get him acclimated in the last few weeks (of spring training).”
The Royals viewed Hochevar as a long-term cornerstone in their rotation after selecting him with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft. He reached the majors in 2007 but is just 38-59 with a 5.39 ERA in 132 career games.
“I told him that he could be Wade Davis,” Yost said. “It’s exactly the same situation (that Tampa Bay had last year), where you’ve got an abundance of pretty good starters and you’re in that mix.
“With Wade going to the pen last year, it upped his game as a pitcher. It got him over the hump, we think, to becoming a complete starter.”
Davis made 64 straight appearances as a starter after the Rays brought him to the majors in 2009 before shifting last year to bullpen duty. He credits the switch with turning him into a more aggressive pitcher.
“That’s something I learned last year,” Davis said. “Not to give any credit to anybody. Just attack everybody the same way. Not giving in. Just trusting everything I have.”
It’s a new role for Hochevar, who made three relief appearances after being promoted to the majors in September 2007 before starting that season’s final game. He pitched just once in relief from 2008-12.
Hochevar didn’t deny his preference to remain a starter.
“Yeah, but you overlook that,” he said. “You look more at the position you have to help as opposed to what’s not there. That’s how this game is. It’s all about perception. It’s how you view whatever it is.
“If you view it as a bad thing, it’s a bad thing. If you view it as a good thing, it’s going to be a good thing. That’s how it works in everyday life as well.”
Asked if he planned to view it as a good thing, Hochevar smiled: “Yeah. You have a choice.”
Yost said one reason for shifting Hochevar to the bullpen is the belief the Royals will have greater need for another late-inning power arm instead of two pitchers who fit best as long relievers.
“With our starters,” Yost said, “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of innings — I’m hopeful there’s not going to be a lot of innings — that two long guys need to eat up.”
While Chen and Mendoza are the leading candidates for the rotation, the Royals realigned their plans this week to give starts to Will Smith and Yordano Ventura.
“Are Bruce and Mendy the front-runners?” Yost said. “Absolutely, but Will Smith has done phenomenally this spring, and so has Ventura. So we keep their names in the mix.
“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that (Smith or Ventura win the job). We’re bound and determined to put the best team on the field every single day that we can. We’re looking at all of our options right now.”
The Royals also asked for unconditional release waivers on right-hander Guillermo Moscoso prior to the 1 p.m. Central time deadline to limit termination pay to roughly one-sixth (30/183rds) of his salary.
The move also enables the Royals to pay Moscoso, 29, under terms of the minor-league portion of his contract. That means he will receive less than $30,000.
“He’s not going to make our team,” Yost said. “Go ahead and give him an opportunity to hook on with another team before the flood gates open on the waiver wire. He did a nice job, but there’s no room at the inn.”
Moscoso made two scoreless two-inning appearances before getting rocked March 7 for five runs in one inning of a 12-2 loss to Seattle. He is out of options, which prevented the Royals from sending him to the minors.
The Royals acquired Moscoso in a Nov. 2 waiver claim from Colorado. At the time, he projected as a rotation candidate, but those chances dimmed after the Royals acquired James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay.