Hochevar learning to control emotions
Righty working on keeping his composure in tough spots
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It was just past 9:30 MT on Friday morning. Yawn. Early for a baseball game. A time for feeling lazy.
Not for Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, though. Out on George Brett Field, the Texas Rangers had loaded the bases. OK, this was just a "B" game, but there was a fire licking at Hochevar.
Sacks full, no outs. Just the kind of situation that sometimes consumes Hochevar. He wants to rear back and throw 120 mph and get out of this jam. Instead, Hochevar stepped back, assessed the situation and stamped out the fire at his feet.
"I pitch on the verge of a fight, with a lot of intensity," Hochevar said. "And sometimes I'm burning down the house with it. I come out of my delivery and I become a thrower instead of a pitcher. My intensity kind of overtakes me."
Hochevar decided he had a couple of choices.
"Let's pitch to contact, let's get a double play, or I'm going to go after this guy and get a strikeout, and then I'm going to pitch to contact," Hochevar said.
He achieved the second option, striking out Nate Gold. Then John Mayberry Jr. popped out to short right field. He'd pitched out of the jam. Yeah, there were only two outs, but this was a "B" game, and the Royals decided Hochevar had thrown enough pitches for that inning.
Rules are made up on the fly, and manager Trey Hillman waved Hochevar and the Royals off the field.
"We figured out a way to beat them," Hillman said with a laugh. "We'll cheat. We'll just take him off with two outs."
Hochevar went on to pitch three innings -- OK, 2 2/3 technically -- in a 3-2 win over the Rangers. He gave up no runs, remaining unblemished this spring and very much in contention for a job on the Royals staff.
"He wasn't as sharp with his location but still showed very good stuff. He just left some balls up and out over the plate," Hillman said.
Pitching coach Bob McClure put Hochevar into this low-key "B" game start so he could concentrate on repeating his delivery even in stressful situations.
"I'll use John Smoltz as an example," McClure said. "He'll go 91, 92 [mph] and then still stay in his delivery throwing 94, 95. Luke maybe doesn't have that velocity, but he can go 88, 90 and still stay in his delivery and throw one 93. Sometimes what happens is he comes out of his delivery, rushes to the plate and the ball just shoots out of his hand."
That didn't happen after the Rangers loaded the bases. Sure, Hochevar got the two-out gimme, but he reveled in the challenge.
"I wish I could've got three [outs]," he said. "Those are not the situations that you want to be in, but I'm comfortable with the uncomfortable. That's fun. You've got to bear down, you've got to get outs and that's a lot of fun. I enjoy that."
He conquered the temptation to overthrow and get out of sync on his delivery. Good thing, because that does things to his fastball.
"My fastball comes up in the zone because I'm jumping out of my skin, trying to get on it," he said. "But I can feel when I come out of my delivery. I spin off and I flail and I can feel that. But emotionally, I can feel that as well. Emotionally, I'm overwhelmed with adrenaline."
The idea is to control that adrenaline rush at those times.
"It was a key for me today to recognize that intensity and to step back and self-coach myself and just stay down through my pitch, stay through my delivery and stay within myself and avoid the out-of-body experiences," Hochevar said.
Woooo, that out-of-body stuff isn't quite as spooky as it might sound.
"Mac [McClure] made an extremely good point that's going to stick with me for a long time," Hochevar said. "It's controlled rage. You have to be under control to execute your pitch, but you want that intensity and you want that presence. That's ingenious what he told me today -- controlled rage."
McClure continued to be impressed with the progress of Hochevar, the nation's No. 1 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
"He's going to help us," McClure said. "When? We'll see."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.