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01/12/11 11:12 PM EST

Hochevar avoids arbitration with one-year deal

Royals hurler excited by prospect of opening as No. 1 starter

KANSAS CITY -- Luke Hochevar, who figures as the No. 1 pitcher in the Royals' rotation, signed a one-year contract for 2011 on Wednesday, avoiding salary arbitration.

Hochevar signed for $1.76 million, the same salary that he made last season.

The signing leaves the Royals with four players eligible for arbitration -- first baseman Billy Butler, outfielder Alex Gordon and pitchers Kyle Davies and Robinson Tejeda.

Hochevar, 27, had his 2010 season interrupted by a strain in his right elbow, which restricted him to a 6-6 record and 4.81 ERA over 18 games (17 starts).

He went on the disabled list on June 16 and didn't return until Sept. 13. The problem forced him to leave a June 11 game at Cincinnati after four innings.

"It's good," Hochevar said. "That was the main focus of mine this offseason. I met with the trainers and our focus was to strengthen my forearm and the area around my elbow to prevent that from happening again. and hopefully I can make every single start this year."

Despite Hochevar's abbreviated season, the Royals are counting on him to lead the pitching staff after trading Zack Greinke to the Brewers.

"Absolutely. If that's what it is, then that's what I'm going to do," Hochevar said. "Go out and take the ball every fifth day just like I would in any other spot in the rotation -- and go at 'em with my best stuff."

General manager Dayton Moore believes that Hochevar has the stuff to do it.

"Hoch has exceptional quality to his pitches and he's a great competitor, and all the ingredients are there for him to be an exceptional Major League pitcher," Moore said. "Just some setbacks with injuries have kind of hampered him, but he has to go out there and earn it -- and we think he will."

The No. 1 choice in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Hochevar is 19-32 in a Kansas City uniform with a 5.60 ERA in 69 games. His career has included some superb performances, including an 80-pitch complete-game victory over Cincinnati and a 13-strikeout game against Texas, both in 2009.

But he's been bedeviled by a tendency to give up big innings and hasn't achieved a long period of consistently good outings.

"No doubt. That's been my Achilles heel -- inconsistency -- but I think a lot of that comes with maturity at the big league level and just being in those situations more and more times," Hochevar said. "Every time I've taken the ball I feel like I've gotten better, so it's time that I just put everything together."

Hochevar plans to be in the Royals' training complex by Feb. 5, a full 10 days before the first official workout.

"I can't wait, I'm champing at the bit," he said. "I'm really excited about this year."

Part of that enthusiasm centers on a wealth of top pitching prospects that will be in camp this year.

"It fires me up," Hochevar said. "We've got some awesome young talent coming up and it really pumps me up."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.