Surprise, Ariz. Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar are competing for the final spot in the Royals’ rotation. The loser might not be with the organization for too long.
A multitude of scouts watched the pair each throw three sharp innings in an 8-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday as the Royals remained undefeated.
The Royals are listening to trade offers for both.
Chen allowed one run on two hits and walked none. Hochevar pitched three scoreless innings, but yielded three hits and walked one. He finished strong, striking out the final three batters.
“Even though we are fighting for a fifth spot in spring training, I think it is an all-year battle for the fifth spot,” Chen said. “You can win it, but then you can lose it in a matter of two months. In reality, whoever wins it, wins it, but it is going like to be an audition every time that person goes out.”
Chen, a 35-year-old left-hander, has led the club in victories the past three seasons.
“I feel like I can help the team the most by being in the starting rotation,” Chen said. “But if I’m not in the starting rotation, that means there are five guys better than me. If there are five guys better than me, then I better do something. I’m getting paid a lot of money to be in the bullpen, so I better do something good.”
Chen will make $4.5 million this year, while Hochevar will earn $4.56 million.
“I am working toward where I want to be, make sure my arm is strong enough to go deep in the game,” Chen said. “I want to make sure I’m using my fastball on both sides of the plate and keep the ball down. So far it’s been going well, but it’s not a matter of one time or two times, but it’s a matter being able to do it consistently and being confident that you can do it for seven, eight innings. That’s the main goal.”
While manager Ned Yost has said whoever does not win the fifth rotation spot will go to the bullpen, a trade looms as a strong possibility if all the starters remain healthy in March with the projected payroll at a franchise-record $79 million.
“I kind of got in the groove as the game went on and started getting the ball down a lot better,” Hochevar said. “I felt a lot better with my fastball execution. I’m ready to step it up to my next set of pitch count.”
Catcher Brett Hayes homered to lead off the second and Brandon Wood hit a two-run shot in the eighth as the 10-0-1 Royals remain the only undefeated club.
“Name the No. 5 starter? I’m glad that’s not my job to do that,” Hayes said.
Bartolo Colon did not fare so well for Oakland, allowing five runs on seven hits and throwing 48 pitches in two innings. The 39-year-old right-hander has yielded 12 hits and eight runs, six earned, in four innings in losing his first two starts.
“He’s getting his work in, but he obviously would like to do better than that,” said bench coach and acting manager Chip Hale. “There was some pretty hard contact. He probably missed a little bit too much over the plate. He felt good after he was done. His velocity was good. He used all of his pitches.”
Grant Green, a career .302 hitter in four minor league seasons, stroked two doubles for his third consecutive two-hit game.
“He’s swinging the bat great,” Hale said. “It’s the same stuff we see every day in batting practice. He just hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity to play. Since he’s got the opportunity, he’s shown us why he had the big year last year in Triple-A offensively and the move to second base is looking good right now.”
Hiroyuki Nakajima doubled in the second inning for his first extra-base hit and scored on a John Jaso single. Nakajima, a nine-time All-Star in Japan who signed with the A’s in December, also struck out in the sixth, his nine strikeout in 17 at-bats.