SURPRISE, Ariz. | It started as a fiasco for the Royals but ended just shy of a rousing comeback. It ranged from appalling to entertaining before concluding Wednesday afternoon as a 16-14 loss to the San Diego Padres at Surprise Stadium.
“It was good to see us not shut it down,” manager Trey Hillman said. “That’s for sure.”
The Royals surrendered five unearned runs in the second innings, three more unearned runs in a five-run fourth and well, there was lots more and nearly all of it bad _ until the late innings.
An two-out error by third baseman Alberto Callaspo opened the way to the five-run second against Luke Hochevar, who made things worse with two two-out walks and two two-out doubles.
Catcher Jason Kendall squawked more than once with home-plate umpire Manny Gonzalez over calls on the two walks. The Royals soon had bigger problems after Philip Humber replaced Hochevar to start the fourth.
Humber gave up 10 runs and 11 hits in just 1 2/3 innings as the Padres, 5-9, stretched their lead to 16-4 through six innings. Then the Royals, 6-6-1, came roaring back with a three-run seventh and a seven-run eighth.
Mike Aviles and Cody Clark each drove in two runs in the eighth. The inning ended with the tying runs on base.
That was it, though. The Royals went down in order in the ninth.
The Padres’ five-run second inning included two major defensive mistakes but also saw Luke Hochevar unravel in a manner all-too-familiar to last season.
Hochevar should have been out of the inning on two occasions.
First, shortstop Wilson Betemit kicked a possible double-play grounder that would have ended the inning. The Royals settled a force play. Third baseman Alberto Callaspo then failed to handle a routine hopper for what should have been the third out.
Hochevar walked the next two hitters on some borderline calls. That forced in one run before Tony Gwynn pumped a three-run double over the head of center fielder Scott Podsednik. Jerry Hairston Jr. followed with a RBI double to left.
“The only pitch that I was disappointed in,” Hochevar said, “was the first pitch to Gwynn, the double. With that pitch, I’m trying to be finer in that situation and make a very quality pitch — especially with the bases loaded. I didn’t make that pitch.”
Adrian Gonzalez drew a walk before Hochevar ended the inning by retiring Kyle Blanks on a fielder’s choice. All five runs were unearned.
Callaspo countered his costly error by going three for three and raising his average to .448 at 13 for 29. Podsednik was one for two with a walk and is batting .381 at eight for 21 with a .435 on-base percentage.
First baseman Billy Butler had three RBIs, which matched his previous spring total through nine games. Josh Fields was zero for three with just two hits in 23 at-bats before ripping an RBI double in the seventh inning.
Closer Joakim Soria breezed through a one-two-three seventh inning with two strikeouts. That makes three scoreless one-inning outings in three appearances.
An impressive spring showing wasn’t enough to keep rookie right-hander Aaron Crow in big-league camp. He was optioned to Class AA Northwest Arkansas prior to Wednesday’s game.
Crow, 23, departs after working 5 2/3 scoreless innings over three appearances. He struck out six and walked one.
“His makeup is outstanding,” Hillman said, “and he’s got real good stuff. When he’s behind (in the count), he finds, very quickly, a way to get back in the count. And he’s got a couple of pitches that he can put away a hitter with.
“He can go to both sides of the plate with pitches that show deception and velocity. You don’t see that very often.”
The move reduced the big-league camp roster to 48 players, including third baseman Alex Gordon, who remains sidelined by a broken right thumb.
•Wednesday was the last day for clubs to release players and pay only about one-sixth (30/183rds) of their salary as separation pay. Clubs are only obligated for roughly one-fourth (45/183rds) of a player’s salary as separation pay. Players with guaranteed contracts receive full value of their contracts if released.
Center fielder Rick Ankiel’s sore right ankle was sufficiently improved to enable him to play catch on the practice fields and take batting practice in the cages. He is tentatively schedule to return the lineup Sunday as the designated hitter against Colorado.
The Rockies are showing interest in reliever Juan Cruz in an effort to help their suddenly injury-plagued bullpen.
The Royals figure to be receptive.
Cruz, 32, is making $3.25 million after posting a 5.72 ERA last season in 46 games. His deal also includes a $4 million option for 2011 with a $500,000 buyout.
Colorado needs bullpen help because closer Huston Street was shut down indefinitely Tuesday after experiencing renewed tightness in his shoulder. Early expectations are he will open the season on the disabled list.
Setup man Rafael Betancourt is also sidelined by shoulder problems.
The Rockies have shown interest in Cruz in the past. He has allowed one run and one hit in three innings over three appearances. His next scheduled outing is Sunday _ against Colorado. Notables
•Thursday is outfielder Scott Podsednik’s 34th birthday.
•Nonroster catcher Vance Wilson turned 37 on Wednesday. He spent last season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas after missing most of the two previous seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow.
•Wednesday’s loss was the 100th for the Royals since they shifted their spring operations to Arizona in 2003. They are 118-100-8 in that span.
Thursday marks the only open date for the Royals in their Cactus League schedule. They resume play Friday with second and final trip to Tucson, Ariz., for a 3:05 p.m. game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Tucson Electric Park.
Friday’s game will be the Royals’ last game in Tucson for the foreseeable future. The Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, the only remaining teams in that city, are shifting their operations next spring to North Scottsdale in the Phoenix area.
Royals (RHP Brian Bannister) vs. Diamondbacks (RHP Billy Buckner), at 3:05 p.m. Central time Friday in Tucson, Ariz.
“You’ve got to taste blood and go get it.”
— Pitcher Luke Hochevar, after failing to pitch out of two-out trouble in the second inning.
Countdown to Opening Day: 18 days