When Luke Hochevar stepped to the mound yesterday afternoon to start the third inning, it was the beginning of his 614th career major league inning.  Six runs and just two outs later, Hochevar’s day was done and it marked the end of this writer holding out hope that Hochevar will ever be something more than what he basically is.

Through 613.2 innings, Hochevar has a career 5.46 earned run average.  He has allowed 662 hits and 70 home runs, while striking out 5.9 batters per nine innings and walking 3.1 per nine.   Through 706 innings (which is everything but his truly horrible 2011 campaign), Kyle Davies allowed 792 hits, 92 home runs, struck out 6.3 per nine and walked 4.3 per nine; pitching to a 5.49 earned run average.   Davies was a very poor major league starting pitcher and Luke Hochevar is better than him…but not by a wide margin.

To be fair, Hochevar’s career FIP is 4.40 and his xFIP is 4.29, which would seem to indicate that he is, or at least should be, a better pitcher than his traditional numbers imply.   That said, Hochevar does not pass the eye test any longer.   He is an inconsistent pitcher who, after 600 major league innings, does not look much different than he did after 129 major league innings.

Hochevar has made six starts this season and in three has failed to get past the fourth inning.  In those three starts, Luke has allowed SEVEN earned runs twice and NINE another time.   This is not a ‘rut’ or a ‘rough patch’, this is bad, bad pitching. 

Last year, after the All-Star Break, Hochevar threw 79 innings, allowing 66 hits, struck 68, walked 24 and posted a 3.52 ERA.   That run came on the heels of two starts where Luke allowed 11 runs over 8 innings.   He has been awful before and gotten better.   Heck, pull the game logs from any of Luke’s seasons and you can find a string of bad starts and a string of good starts.  You can find some truly masterful games and some truly horrific outings.   You can find them in each and every season and that’s the point:  it isn’t getting any better. 

In fact, it might be getting worse.

Short of the three season ending starts for Hochevar way back in 2009, where he allowed 21 earned runs in a combined 14 innings, this stretch of three awful starts in six tries might well be the worst of Luke’s career.   They come at a time when many of us believed that Hochevar had or at least should be turning the corner and becoming a consistent middle of the rotation starter.

He is 28 years old and 600 innings into his career, coming off a 2011 season where he made 31 starts and threw 198 innings.   THIS was the year.     Apparently, 2012 is the year we all become convinced that Hochevar will never be more than a fringe rotation contributor.   The guy at the front of the line to be replaced if Mike Montgomery and his new release point come of age in Omaha.

I know what you might be saying.   Just a couple weeks back I was still on the Hochevar bandwagon.  He had three decent starts out of four and seemed to have discovered increased effectiveness through the increased use of his off-speed pitches.   You might also offer that as bad as Luke’s three starts have been, he has given his team a chance to win half the time he takes the mound and that every starter has bad starts.

Every starter does have bad starts and they might well end up being tagged for seven runs at times, but consistently all in one inning?  Three runs in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth add up to six runs and a bad outing, but six runs in the third buries your team.  Chances are six runs however you slice them ends up in a loss, but I like my chances a lot better if they don’t come in one demoralizing inning.  Down 3-0 in the second and 4-1 in the third is not the Mount Everest for your hitters to climb that 6-1 in the third is.

At one time or another, at one level or another, we have all played baseball.   Three to nothing is a walk, a double and a single away from being back in the game.   Six to one is forever and back to get into the game.   It affects how your hitters approach their at-bats and how your fielders play their positions. 

Three times out of six, Luke Hochevar has buried his team.   Three times out of six, he has given the Kansas City Royals virtually zero chance to win a game.   Bruce Chen was tagged for six on Friday night, but he gave the Royals six innings to try to do something against C.C. Sabathia.   Hochevar gave his team just two innings on Sunday to try to master the struggling Phil Hughes before the game became academic.

So, Luke my friend, I am done.   Done analyzing your cutter and your pitch selection and getting hopeful when you string together two or three good starts.  I’m done because I know for every start where you go seven strong innings, there is a four inning/five run outing just around the corner (or worse).   I am done, because after six hundred innings you probably are who you are.

Now, the Royals don’t really have an option at this point and likely would not use it to replace Hochevar even if they did.   I am not calling for Luke’s immediate removal from the starting rotation because Mike Montgomery is not ready, Jake Odorizzi is in AA, Nate Adcock is not likely (at this point) to be any more consistent and neither is Everett Teaford.   Vin Mazzaro?  Well, would he be an upgrade?

Nope, Hochevar will make more starts for this team.  He might well make about 25 more this year and some of them will be quite good.   When 2012 ends, some may still believe that Luke Hochevar will be a valuable member of what is hopefully a contending rotation in seasons to come.  I think that is wrong thinking.  Hochevar is who he is and, should Luke get on a run in June or July, Dayton Moore would be wise to shop him for something…anything to a team with pitching woes and high hopes.

xxx