Has Hochevar turned the corner with back-to-back strong starts?

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Prior to last week Luke Hochevar seemed destined for a career as a
solid but unspectacular mid-rotation starter, which while certainly not
a bad thing would qualify as a big disappointment for the No. 1 overall
pick in the 2006 draft.

Hochevar had a mediocre 92/39 K/BB ratio in 123 innings at Triple-A
and then went 11-16 with a 5.25 ERA through his first 33 starts in the
majors, managing a measly 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His average
fastball was just 90 miles per hour, he wasn’t missing any bats, his
control was shaky, and despite still being just 25 years old Hochevar
didn’t look like someone capable of becoming an elite starting pitcher.

That may still end up being the case, but he’s at least done a good
impression of an elite starter in his last two outings, racking up 22
strikeouts in 13 innings while handing out zero walks against two of
the AL’s best lineups. He had nine strikeouts in six innings against
Tampa Bay and then whiffed 13 in seven innings Saturday versus Texas,
which is remarkable for a guy who never had more than six strikeouts in
his first 33 starts.

Bill James once found that pitchers with even a single 15-strikeout,
zero-walk start were overwhelmingly destined for greatness. In fact, as
the always awesome Joe Posnanski points out
of the 21 guys to accomplish that feat 20 of them are “either Hall of
Fame quality or excellent pitchers” with Sterling Hitchcock being the
lone exception. Of course, Posnanski also notes that dropping the
threshold to 13 strikeouts produces “a significantly bigger group.”

The 13-strikeout group has 75 pitchers, to be exact, with
significantly more non-elite names mixed in with the Hall of Famers. In
other words, Hochever’s outstanding 13-strikeout, zero-walk performance
against the Rangers doesn’t really predict greatness so much as
goodness. After all, for one game to have that much meaning is
extremely difficult.

However, Posnanski’s findings got me wondering about Hochevar’s
two-game stretch with 22 strikeouts and zero walks. Or, put another
way, how many pitchers have had back-to-back starts where they didn’t
walk anyone and struck out at least nine batters? Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com,
I can tell you that Hochevar was just the 29th guy to do it since 1954
and no one has done it in three straight starts. Here’s the list:

Randy Johnson (x2)      Rich Harden             Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez (x2) Dan Haren Steve Renko
Curt Schilling (x2) LUKE HOCHEVAR Nolan Ryan
Erik Bedard Fergie Jenkins Ray Sadecki
Kevin Brown Jon Lieber Johan Santana
Steve Carlton Jim Merritt Mike Scott
Roger Clemens Terry Mulholland Ben Sheets
Bob Gibson Mike Mussina James Shields
Dwight Gooden Roy Oswalt David Wells
Aaron Harang Camilo Pascual

Not all of those names are great pitchers, but an awful lot of them
are and most of the elite starters from the past five decades are on
the list. All of which isn’t to suggest that Hochevar is suddenly
destined to become a great pitcher, just that the possibility at least
seems a whole lot more plausible than it did a couple weeks ago.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.