Sidney Ponson will pitch the first game at renovated Kauffman Stadium, manager Trey Hillman said on Wednesday in completing the Royals’ starting rotation.
Ponson and left-hander Horacio Ramirez will join Gil Meche, Zack Greinke and Kyle Davies in the rotation.
Ponson will start on April 10 against the New York Yankees in the Grand Re-Opening of the stadium. Ramirez will make his first start on April 12 against the Yankees.
The Royals also optioned pitcher Brian Bannister to Triple-A Omaha, asked unconditional release waivers on pitcher Joel Peralta and placed left-hander John Bale on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27.
Earlier on Wednesday, they traded first baseman Ross Gload to the Florida Marlins for a player to be named.
Right-hander Luke Hochevar, one of the prime candidates for the last two spots in the Royals’ rotation, was optioned on Tuesday to Triple-A Omaha.
Hochevar’s departure cuts the list of starting aspirants to three, right-handers Sidney Ponson and Brian Bannister and left-hander Horacio Ramirez.
In five Cactus League games, Hochevar had a 3.86 ERA and a 1-0 record. In 16 1/3 innings, he gave up 17 hits and seven runs with four walks and seven strikeouts. Opponents hit .279 against him.
The first overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Free Agent Draft, Hochevar was brought into the rotation last April 20 after opening the season with Omaha. He made 22 starts for the Royals, going 6-12 with a 5.51 ERA before his season ended on Aug. 20 because of a rib-cage injury.
In this camp, he was not bothered by the injury. In his last Cactus League start, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he gave up three runs in the first inning but then worked three scoreless innings.
His candidacy for the rotation might have taken a hit when the Royals signed veteran Sidney Ponson who was immediately put into the mix. Ponson was scheduled to pitch on Tuesday against the Oakland A’s.
Hochevar’s departure still leaves 36 players in camp including 18 pitchers, three catchers, 10 infielders and five outfielders. The Royals break camp on Thursday.
Manager Trey Hillman didn’t come out and exactly say it on Sunday but he came close to anointing Kyle Davies as the Royals’ No. 3 starter.
“I think that you can assume that,” he said, knowing full well that we’ve been assuming that for two or three weeks now.
Davies will pitch on Monday, right after No. 1 and 2 Gil Meche and Zack Greinke, so he’s right on target to start the third game at Chicago.
Just who will start the April 10 opener remains in question, of course, because the fourth and fifth spots are still undecided. So it’ll be either Horacio Ramirez, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister or Sidney Ponson. It can’t be Meche because he’d have only three days of rest, not four, before the first home game against the Yankees.
Gil Meche’s excellent outing on Friday against the Dodgers gives the Royals’ rotation picture a huge boost.
Sure, everybody knew he was much better than he’d pitched this spring. He was not a 10.45 ERA guy. He’d proved himself in the last two years. Even so, there were those nagging thoughts: What if that back problem really hadn’t gone away? What if he’d just lost something? What if, what if?
Anyway, Meche blew away the doubts with seven shutout innings, breezing through in about 80 pitches and using just three in the last inning. So he looks ready for Opening Day.
Zack Greinke will go in the second game and, even though manager Trey Hillman won’t say so, Kyle Davies has the third starting job sewed up.
So how does it shake out for the other two, with Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, Horacio Ramirez and new arrival Sidney Ponson in the shootout?
Here’s a guess: Hochevar gets one spot because, frankly, he’s looked good enough to win it. The other spot goes to Ramirez unless that loose fingernail problem pops up again and proves to be a problem. The Royals badly want a left-hander in the rotation, just to break things up, and they think Ramirez will be better once he unleashes his cutter. He’s purposely held off on that pitch, which might be his best, while he improves his other pitches.
Bannister, who’s struggled most of the spring, gave himself a boost with five shutout innings in a Minor League game the other day. But it’d be easy for the Royals to send him to Triple-A Omaha to work on finding himself again. Likewise, because Ponson has pitched in just one Cactus League game and there’s time for him to pitch just one more, it’d be logical to send him to Omaha for more tune-ups. Then if somebody falters or gets hurt, the call can quickly go out to Bannister or Ponson.
The Royals can dip down and pull up a proven Major League starter. It’s nice to have that kind of depth and it’s something they haven’t had for a while.