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The Work In Front Of Luke Hochevar

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In the next few weeks, the Kansas City Royals have to be hoping for some bit of the cavalry to arrive in the form of injured pitchers returning to the mound. Both Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar have been on the disabled list, although certainly Hochevar's injury hasn't been nearly as significant as Meche's. Still the Royals could use Hochevar on the mound and working on his issues as he continues to develop as a young starting pitcher.

But what are those things, those issues, that continue to plague the University of Tennessee product. Last season, Hochevar made strong strides in two key categories: strikeouts and walks. After a long first full season in 2008 in which he averaged 3.3 BB/9, Hochevar lowered the number to 2.9, displaying a more confident approach in challenging the hitter and keeping the ball down. The result also dramatically affected his strikeout totals as his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) jumped nearly two full points - from 5.0 in 2008 to 6.7 last season. These were splits that resembled Hochevar's minor league numbers and gave some relief that Hochevar was developing nicely despite a higher ERA.

But another thing came with the improved numbers, one that took down Hochevar's overall line: home runs allowed. This was always a difficult spot for Hochevar in the minors with his worst round coming his first time through AAA in 2007 with a 1.7 HR/9 allowed. His rookie season, he allowed only .8 HR/9, but in 2009 the number jumped to 1.4. So even though he was walking less and striking out more, he was also more prone to leaving the ball hanging in front of sluggers a bit too often.

The key, then, for Hochevar this season is to put all of that together. He's keeping the ball in the park with a fantastic .7 HR/9 and he's also maintaining the same strikeout rates as last season. But he's also back to walking more batters with a 3.2 BB/9 rate, walking 28 batters in 78 innings. Both the homers and the walks are key for Hochevar's success and for the Royals to see their former first round pick make good at the major league level. And there are signs he can get things done.

Consider this: Hochevar allowed only one home run in the first eight games of the season and only two in the first 10. That's simply incredible. Yet he's now allowed five in his last five starts, signs that certain hitters are clued in as the season wears on. Yet in his last four starts, Hochevar's only allowed four walks, the best four game stretch by far of the season. He's allowed that many in three separate games already this year. So apparently in the last few starts before the injury, he recognized the need to trust his defense and challenge hitters.

If he can put these together, the Royals will really have something since the talent is obviously there. Here's hoping for continued signs of improvement in his third full season.