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TB@KC: Hochevar fans eight in seven-hit shutout

KANSAS CITY -- For Luke Hochevar, it's back-to-back beauties.

Hochevar reeled off his second straight victory and the Royals' first complete game of the season, as the Royals blanked the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-0, on Monday night as 20,200 fans witnessed his mastery at Kauffman Stadium.

It was Hochevar's second career shutout as he threw 113 pitches, 73 for strikes. He gave up seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

"I guess I've got to come up with better words than fantastic, tremendous and great," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He was phenomenal."

In his previous start, last Tuesday night at Houston, Hochevar shut out the Astros for 7 2/3 innings in a 2-0 victory. That ended a six-start winless stretch for him.

According to Yost, the change in Hochevar came when he was convinced to concentrate on his three core pitches -- fastball, curveball and changeup.

"I just went out and did it and it worked, and I'll stick with it," Hochevar said.

Crucial for Hochevar making it to the finish against the Rays was plenty of early support from the Royals' offense. By the fourth inning, he had a 7-0 lead.

"It was great to be able to extend a pitcher out without any fear of him taking a loss," Yost said. "If it's a one- or two-run game, it's a different story in the sixth, seventh, eighth inning. I'm darned sure not going to let a pitcher get beat in the eighth inning with our 'pen."

The fans sitting in 89-degree weather saw a modern baseball rarity -- two starting pitchers going the distance. Right-hander Alex Cobb went the full eight innings for the Rays despite giving up eight runs on 13 hits.

"Give Cobb credit, that was a pretty impressive complete game to have us put up eight runs and still have that pitch count (113) and battle," said Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who had three hits off Cobb. "They just had a doubleheader in Philly and they probably didn't want to go to the 'pen, and he definitely helped 'em out."

After scoring a first-inning run on doubles by Gordon and Mike Moustakas -- his liner tipping off right fielder Ben Zobrist's glove -- the Royals went on a singles barrage in a five-run third inning.

There were seven singles against Cobb and they came in a wide variety, beginning with Alcides Escobar's bunt. There were grounders and liners and bloopers. Yuniesky Betancourt drove in two runs with his single up the middle and Jeff Francoeur, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez each knocked in one run with their hits.

Meanwhile, Hochevar kept extracting himself from jams. The biggest escape came in the fifth after Jose Molina and Elliot Johnson began the inning with singles. He struck out the top three batters in the Rays' lineup -- Desmond Jennings, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton. That was vital to his success.

"No doubt about it. Two little bleed shots and that's how teams get rolling, and it was big to put a stop to that and get some punchouts," Hochevar said.

After that, Hochevar permitted just one more baserunner, on a single, and faced the minimum 15 batters in getting the last 15 outs. That came after six hits and his only walk in the first four innings plus two batters in the fifth.

"Early on I was feeling for my breaking ball a little bit, but they were spittin' on it until I starting throwing 'em for strikes, and then they started making adjustments, but about in the fourth inning, I started hitting on them and everything just kind of rolled from there," Hochevar said.

Rays manager Joe Maddon sensed Hochevar's dominance even earlier.

"You could see a little bit of uncertainty about him in the first inning or so, but he nailed it after that. He was very good. He had everything going on, everything. ... He was all over us tonight," Maddon said.

Hochevar knew he'd have a shot at his second shutout -- his first came Sept. 19, 2009, at Chicago, 11-0, -- after he got through an easy eighth inning.

"Ned came up to me and asked how I was feeling. Usually when Ned asks how your feeling, you're going back out," he said.

But Hochevar was near his pitch limit after two outs and Yost had decided that if Brooks Conrad reached base, Kelvin Herrera would come in to finish up. No need for that, Hochevar struck out Conrad to end the game.

"It was Hoch's night, not only did he throw a complete game, he got us out of there in good time to some rest for tomorrow's game," said Hosmer, who belted his ninth homer for the final run in the eighth.

True enough. The game time was 2:17, shortest nine-inning game this season for the Royals.

Hochevar has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. Can he keep going this time with his newfound approach? Has it finally got it figured out?

"I don't think you ever have it figured out. Hitters adjust and the game is always changing," Hochevar said with a hint of caution.

Yost expressed some wait-and-see thoughts but he said:

"We've all had faith in Hoch and we all knew what we think he can do, and he's really starting to show us exactly what he can do and prove that we were right."

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