RHP ∙ 1992—98
Hipolito Pichardo has a great name for a pitcher. Pitch-hard-o! He also represents the best Latin American signing the Royals organization made before Dayton Moore came to town. For the first 36 years of the franchise, the Royals took a look at the high-risk/high-reward practice of signing young Latin American talent and said, “Nah, we’re good.” Occasionally they would offer tiny contracts to guys that other teams weren’t pursuing heavily, a strategy that worked out about as well you’d expect. After Pichardo, Robinson Tejeda (#100 on this list as of this writing) and Carlos Febles (#145) were the most productive Latin signings for KC. (With Salvador Perez, Kelvin Herrera, and Yordano Ventura, Moore already has the three best Latin American free agents in team history.)
Pichardo hails from the Dominican Republic. John Schuerholz’s front office signed him in 1987, and Pichardo worked his way through the system between 1988 to the beginning of 1992. That he never pitched even 100 innings in a single minor league season suggests the possibility of health troubles, but I can’t confirm that hunch. Two weeks into the 1992 season, he got the call to the big leagues. He got his feet wet with some relief appearances before making his first start on May 20 at Comiskey Park. He kept a strong White Sox lineup off the board for all five innings he worked, and remained a reasonably effective piece of the rotation for the rest of the season. The Royals “like(d) the movement on his sinker and his poise.”[i] That low-90s, groundball-inducing sinker was his best pitch, complemented with a slider and a change. Pitching coach Guy Hansen explained that Pichardo earned the nickname “Double D,” which stood for debajo dinero, or “down” and “money” in English, because, “If he keeps the ball down, he’ll make lots of money.”[ii] He was almost perfect on July 21, 1992 when he allowed just one base-runner to the Red Sox in a shutout.
He slotted right back into the rotation in ’93, and, for the most part, continued his run as a solid number three starter. It was the best year of his career, but stamina problems cropped up as Pichardo had difficulty pitching deep into games and also missed time with shoulder fatigue. Those issues pushed Pichardo to pitch exclusively out of the ‘pen for the next four seasons. That 1994—97 stretch was spent mostly setting up for closer Jeff Montgomery and was a mess of occasional strong pitching, occasional terrible pitching, and occasional elbow and shoulder problems. That inglorious run inspired manager Tony Muser to make the curious decision to turn Pichardo back into a starter for 1998. His performances were generally decent, but, not surprisingly, he usually couldn’t go deep into starts, and then on August 20 he strained elbow ligaments that kept him off the mound for the rest of the season and all of 1999, and ended his time with the Royals.
[i] Dick Kaegel, “Kansas City Royals,” The Sporting News, June 1, 1992.