Royals pitchers, catchers set for spring action
Hurlers, backstops report Friday; first full-squad workout slated for Feb. 20
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The dark blue uniform tops were neatly hung in a row of lockers in the pitchers' row of the Royals' training clubhouse with names emblazoned in white: HOLLAND, COLEMAN, CROW, VENTURA, HERRERA ... on down the line.
Everything seemed in place for the ignition of one of the most-anticipated Spring Trainings in recent franchise history.
Pitchers and catchers have their official reporting date on Friday, with their first practice on Saturday. In reality, however, most of them have been here for a while working out unofficially.
"Right now, everything is low-key, laid-back, they've all been throwing, they're all in great shape," manager Ned Yost said. "They get down here and kind of get acclimated to the weather a little bit, get to see their teammates again and get ready to get after it."
Even the unofficial sweat is real, however, and perhaps three-fourths of the roster -- even infielders and outfielders who aren't required to report until Wednesday -- are already in camp. That's been a common occurrence the last few years in Arizona, but last season's late bid for an American League Wild Card playoff berth has whetted appetites.
"This time of the year is always fun, everybody's excited, looking forward to another season -- especially coming off a good year, just being four or five games out at the end of the year," right-hander Luke Hochevar said. "We got a little taste of it and I think everybody's ready to get back and get going.
"I think that little taste that we got and making that push kept all of us hungry during the offseason. So that's always a good thing."
Closer Greg Holland affixed a note of caution to the optimism.
"This year it's even more exciting since I've been here in the big league camp," Holland said but added: "We're trying to stay focused. You don't want to rush in and say, 'Hey, we want to make the playoffs.' You want to worry about getting ready, preparing yourself, staying in the moment and being ready to come from day one. Because it's a grind and we all understand that. But there's also a lot of optimism and we expect a lot out of ourselves this year."
New starting pitcher Jason Vargas was pulling on a uniform on Thursday, Jeremy Guthrie was unpacking some boxes of equipment and fourth starter Bruce Chen threw in the bullpen. Staff leader James Shields had yet to check in, but he's expected on Friday.
Yost didn't know of any pitcher or catcher who'd been delayed by the oft-cited "visa problems" in Latin America.
"Or weather problems, that could be an issue," Yost said, taking note of the winter weather pounding the South and the Northeast. "But no, not that I've heard of yet."
Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland plan to handle their pitchers somewhat differently this year during the early days of camp.
When they hit the back fields of the complex, the pitchers will throw less often and their fielding practices will be altered a bit.
"We're streamlining it and trying to make it more efficient for them," Yost said. "The key to our success this year is going to be our health so, with that in mind, we're doing everything we can to go into it slow. Really focus on maximizing our workouts. Get them on and off, no standing around, no dead time."
When the position players join the workouts next Thursday, the pitchers will not throw live batting practice on that first day as they've done in the past. Instead, they'll throw batting practice for the first time on the third day of full-squad drills.
"When we threw three BPs right out of chute, by that third BP guys were dragging, they were fatigued early," Eiland said. "So, we're going give them a side, day off, BP, day off, BP. We're just protecting them and we're going to have the time to do it."
The pitchers also will have a chance to throw in two intrasquad games before the first Cactus League game against their complex neighbors, the Rangers, on Feb. 27. But in this camp, in contrast to others in recent years, there'll be a go-slow approach.
"We're more of a veteran staff now even though we're still young. Guys have got some time in and know how to manage and get themselves ready," Eiland said.
"We're going to protect them. They're going to get all the mound work they have in years past, we've just not going to feed them too much too soon."
As of now, the only pitcher who'll be held back is prospect Kyle Zimmer because he's coming off some late-season arm issues. Earlier, the right-hander had been projected as a possible rotation candidate.
"I'm not saying the possibility didn't exist but I think the mindset is for him be ready from the All-Star break on, just in case," Yost said.
That leaves Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Hochevar, Chris Dwyer and Everett Teaford among the combatants for the fifth rotation spot.
Several pitchers, such as left-hander Donnie Joseph, are hoping to crack the Royals' bullpen, a tough challenge.
"It's the best in the American League, if not the big leagues and if I can contribute and be part of that in any possible way, I'd love to," Joseph said.
But pretty much everything is set this year -- there aren't many openings on the pitching staff or the starting lineup.
As the official opening of Royals Spring Training approached, a reporter looked far ahead and kiddingly asked Yost if he knew yet who would be his starting pitcher on Opening Day at Detroit.
"I do know," Yost replied.
Would he say who?
"No," he said.
Hey, you can't give away too much too soon.