(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)
By ALAN ESKEW
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) - Luke Hochevar is a paradox.
"You break down Luke's starts last season, half of them were at the top of the league," Royals manager Ned Yost said Sunday. "The other half were at the bottom of the league. So it's just inconsistency."
Hochevar had an 8-0 record with a 2.38 ERA in the 13 starts he made that Kansas City won, according to STATS LLC. The top pick in the 2006 amateur draft was 0-16 with an 8.47 ERA in the 19 of his starts the Royals lost.
He wasn't streaky, either. He won consecutive starts just once, against Houston and Tampa Bay in mid-June. Hochevar didn't lose three in a row until his final outings of the season.
"I'd have a really good game and the next game would be terrible," he said. "I'm thinking what the heck is the difference? I feel like mentally it's the exact same, my approach is the exact same, my focus is the exact same. And something was happening. It was feast or famine last year."
The Royals' opening-day starter in 2011, Hochevar finds himself competing with Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza for the No. 5 slot in the rotation.
"I think he's capable of winning 15 to 18 games in the American League," Yost said. "Is it there? Yeah, it's there. Has it been consistent? No, not really. We have to get a point where he can consistently be a productive performer every five days. I think he's going to do it this year. He's got great stuff. He's a smart kid. Sooner or later all those things are going to come together for him and he's going to be successful. He's got too many plusses for it not all add up in the end."
It hasn't happened yet.
Hochevar finished 8-16 last year, gave up an AL-high 127 runs and had a 5.73 ERA, second-worst among qualifiers and ahead of only Toronto's Ricky Romero at 5.77.
"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses," Hochevar said. "I own last year. I own everything. I'm not going to run from it. I understand the things I need to do to be consistent and to have that big year, that I expect and that everybody expects. I'm just as excited to get everything rocking and rolling."
Opponents hit .318 off him with runners in scoring position. With no one on base, the average dropped to .260.
"When I get in stressful situations or from the stretch when I try to step on the gas, I get a soft front side," Hochevar said. "The ball comes out flat, I usually miss location, make a bad pitch and whack."
Hochevar said he spent the offseason watching video of his stretch delivery and is focused on correcting flaws.
"So now when I do step on the gas, reach back for a second gear, my execution is still good," Hochevar said. "It's something I've really worked on."
He began last season as the No. 2 starter behind left-hander Bruce Chen. After the Royals acquired right-handers James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis in offseason trades and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, Hochevar has plunged down the potential pecking order.
"I don't get caught up in that," Hochevar said. "It's not the first time I've fought for a spot in the rotation. It's not like unfamiliar ground. I'm more locked into my approach and what I need to do to help this club, more so than who is going to have the last spot. I need to pitch to my ability to help this club. If I don't, it's on me."
NOTES: Chen and Mendoza are to start a Tuesday intrasquad game, while Hochevar and rookie LHP John Lamb are scheduled to start the Wednesday intrasquad game. ... OF Lorenzo Cain hurt his right hand in drills and was held out of batting practice. ... LHP Everett Teaford, who had held out of recent drills because of a tender shoulder, is scheduled to resume throwing Monday.