TORONTO | Veteran lefty Horacio Ramirez, once sent to the bullpen, never made any secret of his desire to pitch as a starter. Now, he probably will get that chance if he wants it -- but at Class AAA Omaha.
The Royals designated Ramirez for assignment prior to Saturday’s game in order to clear roster space for right-hander Luke Hochevar.
“We have John Bale and Ron Mahay as our left-handers (in the bullpen),” manager Trey Hillman said. “Unfortunately, he was the odd man out at this point. We had to have a roster spot.”
The move provides the Royals with a 10-day cushion to trade, release or send Ramirez through waivers. If he clears waivers -- as expected because of his $1.8 million guaranteed contract -- the Royals hope to persuade him to continue his career by starting at Omaha.
The Royals remain on the hook for the balance of Ramirez’s salary unless they trade him or lose him through a waiver claim. Ramirez is 39-35 with a 4.64 ERA in 157 career games, including 105 starts, with four teams over seven seasons.
Hochevar started Saturday and got the victory when the Royals broke an eight-game slide by beating Toronto 6-2 at the Rogers Centre.
The decision to designate Ramirez came, ironically, the day after he produced perhaps his best outing of the season with two scoreless innings in a 9-3 loss to the Blue Jays.
Friday’s outing aside, Ramirez, 29, rarely flashed the form the Royals envisioned last December when they plucked him from the free-agent market for what seemed a surprisingly high price.
He was 0-2 with a 5.96 ERA in 19 appearances, including one start, but likely lost his roster spot because of his inability to handle left-handed batters consistently.
“If you’re a left-hander,” one club official said, “you’ve got to keep left-handers to hitting about .200. They were hitting almost .250 (actually .245) against him.”
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David DeJesus served as the leadoff hitter Saturday, but don’t look for him to reclaim his former role on extended basis. DeJesus drew the duty, for just the third time this season, because Hillman wanted to rest Coco Crisp against right-hander Scott Richmond.
“If I didn’t think Coco needed a day off,” Hillman said, “I probably would have left Coco right there.”
Crisp tested his sore right shoulder by playing the two previous games after an eight-day rest. He is expected to play today in the series finale against Roy Halladay.
DeJesus’ struggles this season prompted speculation that he might be a better fit as the club’s leadoff hitter because he has a .274 career average when batting first.
He went hitless Saturday in four at-bats, which dropped his average to .232, but he did coax a key walk that preceded Willie Bloomquist’s three-run triple in the fifth inning.
Five by five
The Royals’ five-run fifth was their biggest one-inning explosion since they scored five in the seventh inning on May 3 in a 7-5 comeback victory at Minnesota. That was the game when they were no-hit for six innings by Scott Baker.
Bloomquist started that rally with a single.
Right-hander Dan Cortes, the organization’s pitcher of the year in 2008, wasn’t sharp Friday but still picked up his third victory in four starts when Class AA Northwest Arkansas held on for a 10-9 victory at Midland.
Cortes allowed three earned runs in five innings but improved to 3-5 after starting the season with four straight losses.
It was 23 years ago Sunday that outfielder Amos Otis and pitcher Steve Busby became the first inductees into the Royals’ Hall of Fame. The hall’s registry now contains 23 members.
Otis, now 62, batted .280 with 193 homers and 992 RBIs in 14 seasons for the Royals from 1970-83. He played 17 seasons overall from 1967-84.
Busby, now 59, was 70-54 with a 3.72 ERA from 1972-80 in an eight-year career cut short by a shoulder injury. He also threw the first two no-hitters in franchise history.
Bloomquist’s triple boosted the Royals’ major-league-leading total to 21. No other team, entering Saturday, had more than 16. Hochevar had lost seven straight big-league decisions prior to beating the Blue Jays. His last big-league victory was July 11, 2008 against Seattle at Kauffman Stadium.
Saturday’s victory ensures the Royals of winning the season series from Toronto for the first time since 2001. They hold a 4-2 edge with only today’s series finale remaining.
The Royals had lost their six previous games at the Rogers Centre. Their last victory before Saturday was 6-3 on April 10, 2007 behind Zack Greinke.
The Royals have a chance today to win two games in a single season in Toronto for the first time since 2002.