As we entered Spring Training this year, Luke Hochevar’s role in the bullpen was in question. With a stacked ‘pen, would the Royals use Hoch as the 6th inning guy, effectively ending games the minute the starter leaves? Would he be the alternate closer? Would he just kind of be there to be the veteran in the bullpen that is trotted out once a week? Nobody knew, not even Ned Yost.
14 games in, we all know what Hochevar was destined to be: The Royals fireman. The term “fireman” in baseball dates way back in history and was a nickname traditionally given to the best reliever on a team’s staff, the closer. The name alludes to the fact that the star pitcher would come into games to “put out the fire” or save the day (game). Nowadays the closer is just a closer and the fireman is the most trustworthy, consistent pitcher in the ‘pen that is brought out in sticky situations when one or more runners are in scoring position and the current pitcher doesn’t look able to get out of the inning unscathed. We don’t call Luke, “Papa Hoch”, for nothing. He is steady and has the skill to get quick outs. More importantly, at 32, Hoch has the mental maturity to block out thoughts about the runners on base. Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City’s fire throwing reliever, has some of the nastiest pitches that fool hitters every time, however, he does not have the ability to ignore the men on base and tends to flounder when he isn’t brought in for a clean inning.
In 6.2 innings pitched, Luke Hochevar has inherited 11 runners in relief, only one has scored. One. Hoch’s 11 IR is tied for league lead with Andrew Chafin of the Arizona Diamondbacks who has let 2 of his 11 cross home plate. Hochevar’s expanded pitching repertoire, developed as a starter, helps him rack up the strikeouts and flyouts to get his team out of trouble game after game.
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