KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Luke Hochevar was taken aback when he walked into the manager’s office one day and manager Ned Yost and the Royals coaches started trying to convince him to make a change.
Simplify your approach, they said. Use your three core pitches.
It took a while for Hochevar to buy in.
Now the change is paying off.
The mercurial right-hander struck out eight in his second career shutout, and the Kansas City offense made sure to come through in an 8-0 rout of the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
“I guess I have to come up with a better word than fantastic, tremendous and great. He was phenomenal,” Yost said. “The results have been dramatically improved since he got back to his three core pitches. He’s starting to show exactly what he can do.”
His arsenal pared down to primarily a four-seam fastball, curveball and change-up, Hochevar (5-7) mowed through a weak-hitting Tampa Bay lineup for his first shutout since Sept. 18, 2009.
Now, the pitcher who was allowing nearly a run per inning earlier in the year has gone 16 2-3 scoreless innings, and is starting to resembled a former No. 1 overall draft pick.
“That was a great outing by Hoch,” said Eric Hosmer, who tacked on a homer in the eighth inning to finish off the scoring. “He was in the zone, he was pounding pitches. He was great.”
Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon both had three hits for the Royals, who were coming off an embarrassing sweep at the hands of St. Louis in which they were outscored 30-14 and burned through their bullpen — which made the start by Hochevar all the more impressive.
No Royals starter had even gone eight innings so far this season.
“If you don’t get him early and permit him to settle in, he gets better,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He was all over us tonight”
Alex Cobb (3-4) also managed to throw a complete game, the first of his career, though it wasn’t nearly as impressive: He allowed 13 hits while falling to 1-4 in his last five starts.
“In the first few innings, I just felt uncomfortable out there,” he said. “Everything they were hitting was dropping. Unfortunately, they were falling everywhere.”
The banged-up Rays came into the game riding plenty of momentum after a double-header sweep of Philadelphia, while the Royals limped in after their rough series against the Cardinals.
Somebody must have flipped the script.
It was Kansas City that came out swinging from the start, with Gordon’s leadoff double setting up an RBI double by Mike Moustakas when the ball bounced off right fielder Ben Zobrist’s glove and over his head after he appeared to briefly lose it in the setting sun.
Cobb worked through a perfect second inning before coming unglued in the third.
It started with Escobar’s bunt single and a base hit by Gordon, and included a wild pitch that plate umpire Todd Tichenor accidentally kicked away from catcher Jose Molina, allowing both of the runners to advance. Betancourt followed with a two-run single.
Billy Butler came to the plate with one out and added a single, and Jeff Francoeur followed with an RBI single in which Butler was thrown out trying to reach third. Hosmer contributed an RBI single, and Salvador Perez added another run-scoring single, though he was cut down to end the inning after making a wide turn around first.
The inning ended after five runs on seven singles in a span of only eight batters.
The Royals added another run on Betancourt’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, and Hosmer went deep in the eighth, though both runs were moot the way Hochevar was dealing.
He got some help from double plays in the first and seventh innings, but otherwise took care of things himself. He worked a perfect second and sixth, and came back from consecutive base hits to start the fifth with three consecutive strikeouts.
It was the first time he had gone eight innings since last Sept. 3 against Cleveland.
This time, Hochevar managed to finish things off.
“I don’t think you ever have it figured out, because hitters adjust, the game is always changing,” he said. “I know what I’m focusing on now, though, and that’s going to be consistent.”