KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While there won’t be many roster spots up for grabs for the Royals this spring training, there will be some sorting out in terms of a few players’ roles.
One of those roles in question will be right-handed reliever Aaron Crow’s.
For over two seasons, Crow has been one of, if not the, primary setup men for manager Ned Yost.
Crow suddenly lost that distinction toward the end of the 2013 season. In fact, when the team was bearing down on a potential playoff spot in September, Crow became a non-factor, pitching just four times that month.
Crow, an All-Star in 2011, lost his setup job to Luke Hochevar, who now is vying for a rotation spot again. But if Hochevar loses out to Yordano Ventura for the final rotation spot — a strong possibility — the guess here is that Hochevar will start as Yost’s top bridge man to closer Greg Holland.
"Whatever it takes to get the ball to Greg (Holland)," Crow says. "That’s all that matters.
"It’s not really all that important (what inning you pitch) at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter if you pitch the sixth inning or the eighth inning, just as long as the team is doing well.
"I don’t care if you come in and face just one batter — just as long as you’re helping the team win."
But Crow stopped helping the team in August, and eventually lost his job.
Crow was sensational in June and July, notching seven wins and eight holds while sporting a dominating 1.17 ERA.
But his troubles started in New York in early August when he coughed up a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning against the Mets by giving up three hits and two runs. The Royals eventually won in extra innings on Justin Maxwell’s homer.
Two weeks later, Crow continued to wobble. He gave up a home run in a setup role to Detroit’s Ramon Santiago. That was Santiago’s first and only homer of 2013. Fortunately, the Royals hung on, 2-1.
But the next night Crow wasn’t so lucky. He gave up a walk-off homer to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth in a devastating 6-5 loss.
Crow was shaky again during an 8-1 blowout of Minnesota toward the end of the month, giving up another homer, this one a bomb by Justin Morneau.
Watch the Royals all season long on FOX Sports Kansas City.
The final straw came Sept. 4, when Crow came into the ninth inning in a 4-4 tie against Seattle and surrendered a two-run homer to Kendrys Morales that led to a crushing 6-4 loss.
From that moment on, Hochevar became Yost’s new go-to guy to set up Holland, and Crow never entered a game with the score tied or the Royals in the lead again.
And Crow made only three more appearances, one in mop-up duty during the infamous 16-2 blowout at the hands of the Tigers.
Crow explains that he simply went into a slump, no different than anyone else. His command and location mysteriously escaped him.
"I had a few games where I gave up a few home runs," he says. "I walked some guys. I just didn’t get the job done. Nothing more to say.
"But it just makes me want to come back stronger this season."
Crow also explains he wasn’t mad when he lost the coveted set-up job.
"Yeah, I had a few bad outings at the end of the season," he says. "But that’s what happens, especially in September when you’re expanding rosters. If you’re not pitching well, they’ll go with the hot hand. It’s just what happens."
The main thing in 2014, Crow says, is that he contributes in some fashion.
"Obviously, there is recognition that comes with being the eighth-inning guy or the closer," he says, "but it’s not that important to me. Two years down the road, people aren’t going to remember who pitched the eighth inning.
"But if you’re (helping the team) win games, people will remember that."
And that’s what Crow intends to do. He’ll shake off the late-season slump, he says, and come back renewed.
And if he doesn’t regain his setup role, that just means the Royals have an exceptionally deep bullpen.
"I think the bullpen is going to be great again," he says. "I think this bullpen has been the best in all of baseball over the last couple of years. And I think it’s going to get better."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email email@example.com.