Tuesday night, the baseball world saw just how good Luke Hochevar can be.
And the good news for Royals fans was that the 2006 first overall pickâ€™s third start at Double-A Wichita was simply worlds apart from his first two outings.
The 23-year-old righthander, who came in with a 6.14 ERA after allowing six runs on 10 hits over his first seven innings, was simply brilliant in the Wranglersâ€™ 4-0 shutout against San Antonio. Hochevar, who is working on a strict pitch count early this season, allowed a pair of hits over 7 2/3 scoreless innings, struck out 11 and did not issue a walk.
â€œIn the short time Iâ€™ve been around Luke, this was the best heâ€™s been,â€ Wichita pitching coach Larry Carter said. â€œHe used all his pitches and was aggressive inside, which I think helped him outside. He repeated his delivery well and kept the ball down in the strike zone.â€
In all, Hochevar needed just 87 pitches to work into the eighth inning, and utilized his changeup, throwing 12 of themâ€”often behind in the count.
â€œHe hadnâ€™t used it very much and that was one thing we were trying to stress,â€ Carter said. â€œHe got more comfortable with it as the game went on. He threw it mostly in 2-1 or 0-1 counts, but then we started seeing him use it when he was ahead in the count also.
â€œHeâ€™s got four quality pitches and he was using them all effectively. His slider was the best itâ€™s been and heâ€™s always been able to throw that curveball for strikes.â€
Hochevar touched 94 mph with his four-seamer in his last start, but Tuesday he was more in the 90-91 range, topping out at 93. Aside from getting him to use his changeup more often to build confidence, Carter is working with Hochevar to achieve better overall balance over the rubber to maintain his arm slot and stay on a more consistent line to home plate.
â€œItâ€™s kind of a minor thing, but sometimes heâ€™ll sort of walk through his windup,â€ Carter said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to get him to stay back more to get better balance in order to get his arm in a better throwing position.â€
Hochevar, who received a $3.5 million bonus and $5.25 million guarantee as part of the first major league contract the Royals have dished out to a draft pick since signing Bo Jackson in 1986, is one of the hardest working guys in the Wranglersâ€™ clubhouse.
â€œHeâ€™s a great individual that sometimes you have to remind him to slow down some,â€ Carter said. â€œThereâ€™s no question the work ethic is thereâ€”this guy always wants to do extra stuff. He came in here with a great routine that heâ€™s carried over from Tennessee and he works extremely hard. Itâ€™s like we have to remind him to save some stuff for the game.â€
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