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Royals once wide-open rotation battle focusing

The SportsXchange

The once wide-open competition for the final vacancy in the Kansas City Royals rotation has all but been decided.

Although, manager Ned Yost has yet to make it official, it would be a surprise if, when the Royals leave their spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., that hard-throwing rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura is not in the rotation.

When the pitchers and catchers reported, the announced competition included Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, Brad Penny and Ventura.

Hochevar is scheduled for season-ending Tommy John surgery. With Hochevar out, the domino effect was having Davis go back to the bullpen.

Penny, a two-time National League All-Star who did not pitch last year, was horrible in his two starts and released with a 15.75 ERA and giving up 13 hits in four innings. Zimmer, a 2012 first-round pick, never threw a pitch, reporting with a stiff shoulder and the Royals opted to go slow with him.

That left it between Ventura and Duffy. Ventura has been outstanding, while Duffy has been struggling.

Ventura drew rave reviews after a March 12 4 1/3 inning start against the Athletics, allowing two hits and one run, while striking out six and walking none. His fastball touched three figures on radar guns.

Duffy could not hold serve in a Friday start, also against the A's. He labored through two innings, permitting five runs on five hits, three walks and a hit batter, needing 65 pitches.

"I got ahead of everybody, but I couldn't put them away," Duffy said. "That pretty much was the entire brief outing that I had. I felt pretty good. I was attacking the zone and there were a couple of at-bats that I went 0-2 and 10 foul balls later, they've got a walk.

"I felt like I was on the attack and one thing led to another. I left a pitch up to the three-hole hitter (Derek Norris, three-run homer) and he smoked it. I've got to figure out a better way to go about it out there, because that's not going to help this team right now."

Duffy's ERA shot up to 11 after four outings and he likely has but two more spring training starts left to turn it around.

"There are 162 games in a season," Duffy said. "I went 2-0 last year in five starts with a sub-2 (ERA). So I know I have something better than I'm showing right now. They know it. They've been watching me since I was 18. It's frustrating. But you turn the page after I leave these doors today and back after it tomorrow."

NOTES, QUOTES

--C Salvador Perez gave the Royals a scare, leaving a game with a bruised left hand after taking a foul tip. X-rays, however, were negative. After sitting out a game, Perez returned to the Royals' lineup.

--C Francisco Pena clubbed a game tying home run with two out and the count full in the ninth inning Friday in a 9-9 tie with the Oakland Athletics. Minutes later, Pena was called into manager Ned Yost's office and told he was being optioned to Triple-A Omaha.

--OF Alex Gordon hit his first spring training home run Friday and is batting .367 in a dozen games. "Gordon is just steady," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's a solid, solid player."

--SS Alcides Escobar has just six at-bats in three games. He was out early on a paternity leave and has been setback with shoulder tightness in his throwing arm.

--RHP Brett Tomko, who turns 41 next month and began his big league career in 1997, signed a minor league contract Friday with the Royals. He pitched for eight clubs in the majors, including the Royals in 2008, going 2-7 with a 6.97 ERA in 16 games, including 10 starts. He has pitched just 17 2/3 innings in the majors since 2009 and last year pitched for York in the independent Atlantic League.

--RHP Ramon Troncoso, who was 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 29 relief appearances last season with the White Sox, signed a minor league contract Friday with the Royals. Troncoso, 31, spent four seasons with the Dodgers, going 8-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 175 appearances.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Wade Davis was lights out. That could have been the best one inning stint this spring," -- Royals manager Ned Yost after RHP Davis struck out all three Oakland hitters he faced in the fourth inning, throwing nine strikes in 12 pitches
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