Hochevar ready to help Royals build off 2011
Righty credits Yost, clubhouse chemistry for helping club improve
KANSAS CITY -- Luke Hochevar sounds ready to go, ready for the season to start. Or at least ready for Spring Training to launch.
The Royals' 6-foot-5 right-hander is currently working out at Knoxville, Tenn., taking an occasional swim at the University of Tennessee -- where he was an All-America pitcher -- and having optimistic thoughts about the 2012 season. He'll be checking in at the Surprise, Ariz., training camp around Feb. 12, arriving just ahead of new pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Ned Yost.
"We crank up the 14th," Hochevar said.
Nothing official -- the first pitchers-catchers workout is set for Feb. 21 -- but Eiland will be introducing himself to early arrivals and Yost will be laying the groundwork for the season. It's Yost who is credited by Hochevar for what he viewed as good chemistry on last year's young team.
"It seemed like everybody we called up just stepped in and did their job," Hochevar said. "But more than that, I just think it was the way that we clicked in the clubhouse and the way everybody gets along and everybody's pulling for the same thing, which is winning. First and foremost on everybody's mind is winning the division, and that's what it takes, is everybody being on the same side. I think that's the biggest thing we have going for us; obviously we have great talent but what pumps me up the most is how everybody is dialed into the same type of thinking and ultimately the same goal."
Hochevar, on the phone, paused just a second.
"That all starts with Ned," he said. "As soon as he took the job he really installed all that in us. Having that winner's mentality and playing for a championship. It became contagious, starting from him and it bled through the organization, that that's what we want to do, win a championship."
Yost, who took over from Trey Hillman on May 13, 2010, endured a last-place finish that season but last year got the Royals up a notch in the standings as the club played particularly well in the final month, going 15-10.
"He's one of the best motivators I've been around," Hochevar said. "He knows how to get the most out of his players, and the good thing is that the players respect him so much that they're going to give him everything that they have. You saw a lot of that in the second half, when a lot of the younger guys that came up felt that and everything started clicking.
"We became stronger as a unit and stronger as a team because of that. He has a way. It's really hard to describe -- I think it's one of those things that you've either got it or you don't. He just knows how to get the most out of his guys and they just lay it on the line for him."
As a pitcher, Hochevar realizes that another reason for the Royals' improvement last season was a better defense. Nothing like having infielders and outfielders behind you that inhale baseballs.
"That is so nice," Hochevar said.
Obviously, Eric Hosmer's glove at first base helped the rest of the infield that included second basemen Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella, shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
"Granted, we had the best outfield in the big leagues, and then with Esky and Gio and Getz and Moustakas," Hochevar said. "With those guys on the infield and Hosmer at first base -- I didn't know he was that good of a first baseman. He moves so well, he picks the ball so good. He's just a baseball player, he knows the game so well and just has a good feel over there at first, and that just boosts everybody's confidence in the infield."
The August arrival of catcher Salvador Perez proved to be another boost.
"He very, very much impressed me and the entire pitching staff. When he came up, he was the hot topic with the pitchers, about how well he called a game and handled the pitchers. He stepped in there and did a great job," Hochevar said.
Those dips in the university pool are not just recreational -- they're part of Hochevar's revised workout routine. He swims often, even during the season.
"Incorporating that has really helped me," he said. "It's helped my arm endurance and flushing out after a game because I'm using my whole body, it's not just running with my legs. When I'm swimming, I'm using everything. It helps me recover and I felt great all season last year, and a lot of it had to do with that. And I've become smarter in my workouts and know what I need to do. I don't go as crazy as I used to with my workouts, and it's changed how my body feels and how I want it to feel."
Right now Hochevar's body feels like it wants to be in Spring Training. Won't be long -- less than a month from now he'll be tossing the ball in Arizona.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.