New rotation boosts hopes for Royals

The Kansas City Royals’ rotation needed an extreme makeover, and
that made general manager Dayton Moore a busy man in the
offseason.

The Royals opened spring training Monday with 34 pitchers and
seven catchers joining several position players already in camp.
The first full-squad workout is Friday.

Among the pitchers are four starters – James Shields, Wade
Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie – who were not with the
club for spring training last year.

”There’s always a high level of excitement for the first day of
spring training,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. ”Everybody feels
good, everybody is raring to go. I think our excitement is a little
more elevated than it has been in the past with the addition of
some of the new pitchers we’ve got.”

Royals starting pitchers went 47-69 with a 5.01 ERA last season,
26th in the majors. They threw only 890 innings (28th), taxing the
bullpen and allowed opponents to hit .283, 20 points higher than
the American League average.

Changes had to be made if the Royals were serious about
contending in the AL Central and a big trade with Tampa Bay in
December brought the team Davis and Shields, who went 15-10 with a
3.52 ERA last season. To get them, the Royals gave up four top
prospects, including consensus minor league player of the year Wil
Myers.

There is no doubt Shields will be the starter for the April 1
opener at the Chicago White Sox.

”He gives you a guy that can anchor the rotation,” Yost said.
”We saw a difference when we got Jeremy Guthrie last year. Jeremy
was going so well, he kind of solidified our starting rotation. I
think all the starting rotation guys will understand Shields is
going to lead our staff. He’s going to be our No. 1 starter.
Everybody else finds comfort and confidence in that.”

Guthrie, who went 5-0 in his final 11 starts, re-signed with the
Royals, a three-year $25 million contract inked after he declared
for free agency.

”People want to talk about Shields, Santana and Davis, and
rightfully so,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. ”But the second
half last year after we got Guthrie after his first two starts, we
made some adjustments and he was one of the best pitchers in all of
baseball. Making the trades to get the other three guys were big,
but I think Guthrie was just as big.”

The Royals acquired Santana from the Angels for minor league
left-hander Brandon Sisk and were willing to pick up $12 million of
his $13 million 2013 salary.

Santana won 17 games in 2010 and went 11-12 in 2011, which
belied his 3.38 ERA; last year, he dropped to 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA
and allowed a major league-worst 39 home runs. He did finish the
season stronger, going 5-4 with a 4.34 ERA after the All-Star
break.

”He had a little rough first half last year, but pitched a lot
better in the second half,” Eiland said. ”We expect him to pick
up where he left off the second half of last year.”

Davis started in 2010-11 for the Rays, but was used strictly in
relief last year. The Royals are putting him back in the rotation,
penciled in as the No. 4 starter.

That leaves incumbents Luke Hochevar, the first player selected
in the 2006 draft; Bruce Chen, who has led the Royals in victories
the past three years; and Luis Mendoza, the MVP of the Caribbean
League playoffs after throwing 13 1/3 scoreless innings for Mexico,
competing for the final rotation slot.

”We have a lot of candidates,” Eiland said. ”A lot of things
can happen. You can never have enough starting pitching. We have
depth here now and that’s a good thing. And hopefully, in
mid-to-late March, we’re sitting down and having tough decisions to
make.”

Plus Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, who were in the rotation
last year before undergoing elbow surgery, could be back around the
All-Star break. Duffy is scheduled to throw off the mound Tuesday
for the first time since his Tommy John surgery. Paulino will begin
throwing off the mound on Feb. 26.