Hochevar, Butler help Royals stop Rangers
Closer Soria nails down win for 100th career save
KANSAS CITY -- It was a loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 15 that sparked a conversation between Royals manager Ned Yost and pitcher Luke Hochevar.
Yost told Hochevar that he believed the right-hander had what it takes to become an elite pitcher in the Major Leagues. The conversation between manager and pitcher apparently was taken to heart. Hochevar has been dominant in his two starts since the chat.
On Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, Hochevar pitched eight innings, giving up only two runs with no walks in a 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers. The win broke a six-game losing streak against the Rangers dating to the '09 season and helped the Royals earn a split of the two-game series.
Closer Joakim Soria tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 100th career save.
Not only was Hochevar effective, he was efficient, too, using only 99 pitches as he shut down the powerful Rangers lineup.
"He's throwing the ball as good as you can possibly throw it," Yost said. "Today, it was against a real good-hitting club. They've got speed, they've got power in the middle of that lineup. I mean, dangerous power, and he was right on top of his game."
Part of that dangerous lineup is the ever-powerful Vladimir Guerrero, who went off for two home runs, a double and five RBIs in Tuesday's 8-7 loss in the series opener.
On this occasion, though, Hochevar found the remedy for Guerrero, as the designated hitter went 0-for-4 and was unable to hit the ball out of the infield.
"He's a good hitter and you just gotta make good pitches to him," Hochevar said. "Even if you make bad pitches out of the strike zone, he's still a hitter that's potent and can go get the ball out of the strike zone. I just tried to make quality pitches to him ... a guy like that, you just gotta make your pitches."
Yost recalls his pep talk to Hochevar as just a little nudge in the right direction for the 26-year-old right-hander.
"It's him stepping up," Yost said. "There are different phases in your development. It's like walking up stairs; you learn something and you take a step. All the ingredients are there for him to be an ultra-successful American League pitcher. Sometimes, you just need to stop and point out an ingredient. Smart guys like Hoch will sit back and they'll digest it in their mind, and it helps."
Yost pulled his starter after eight and brought in Soria to nail it down.
For Soria, save No. 100 was special because it came against the Rangers, who roughed him up on May 6. Soria blew a save chance, giving up two earned runs in one-third of an inning. This time however, the ending was much different.
To reach this milestone, Soria needed to go through the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters, which included Guerrero and Josh Hamilton.
"They're a great team, and the last time I played them, they got me pretty good, and it was like revenge," Soria said. "They are good hitters. I just tried to put a little challenge on them."
Offensively, the Royals received a spark from red-hot first baseman Billy Butler.
Butler was 2-for-4 on the day with a key solo homer in a two-run sixth that ultimately provided the difference. Butler now carries a .348 average and was 4-for-8 in the series with two RBIs.
"He has been, for me, quite impressive," Yost said. "I have never really seen Billy play because I was in the National League for most of my career. It's quite impressive to watch a young man have that good of an idea, that good of an eye, and put together consistent at-bats, time after time."
Coming into Wednesday's contest, Butler was batting .154 against Rangers starter Scott Feldman, but that didn't matter on this day. Feldman was tagged with his fifth loss, allowing four runs in 6 2/3 innings.
"He's given me fits in the past, but I slowed him down today and made him come to me," Butler said. "I didn't swing at the pitches he wanted me to and I had good results."
All in all, Hochevar picked up his fifth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 4.98. Rangers manager Ron Washington gave credit to the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
"It was tough for anybody to get hits off Hochevar today," Washington said. "He had a good changeup, he had a good curveball. He mixed his pitches and hit his spots. His changeup was the key pitch, especially in tough situations. He really relied on his changeup."
Looking back, Hochevar remembers the conversation he had with his manager well.
"That's a big confidence boost when you hear something like that and to know that he's got your back," Hochevar said.
Samuel Zuba is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.