- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

SURPRISE, ARIZ. (AP) - With three days off early next month, the Kansas City Royals plan to start the season with a four-man rotation and keep an extra position player for the first 13 games.

The Royals open the season March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels, but are not scheduled to play April 4, 7 and 11. That means they can get by with four starters working every fifth day for the first two weeks.

“That’s my intention,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I won’t need my fifth starter until April 15th or 16th, so we’ll definitely keep a four-man rotation through the middle of April.”

Barring injuries, the four starters appear to be right-handers Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies and left-handers Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen.

Hochevar is expected to start the season opener, followed by Francis, Davies and Chen.

“I don’t like my lefties throwing back-to-back if I can help it,” Yost said. “We’ll probably break them up in there somewhere.”

Yost has said Hochevar, the first player selected in the 2006 draft out of Tennessee, has the stuff to be a consistent 15-game winner in the majors. Hochevar has a 19-32 record with a 5.60 ERA in 69 games in the majors.

Hochevar said he is a different pitcher than early in his career.

“When I first came up, I felt I was a little more finesse,” Hochevar said. “I think I came up more of a command guy, trying to induce early contact, which obviously I still do, but now I feel like more of a power guy. My mentality is I’m still attacking the strike zone, still going at them.”

Initially, the Royals tried to get Hochevar to be more of a Brandon Webb-type pitcher, inducing ground balls.

“I just don’t think that’s me,” Hochevar said. “I don’t think my sinker is a pitch I can throw every pitch and I found that out. … It’s just been a process and a development for me, kind of finding my own. Last year I felt like I did. I’m excited about this year, just keep it rolling into this year.”

Chen, who led the Royals with 12 victories last season, is the only one of the four who had a winning record in 2010. Davies was 8-12 with a 5.34 ERA in 32 starts. Francis, who missed the 2009 season after having shoulder surgery, was 4-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 20 games with the Colorado Rockies.

Vin Mazzaro, who was acquired in a Nov. 10 trade with Oakland for David DeJesus, and Sean O’Sullivan are the leading candidates for the final rotation slot.

“Definitely, there are spots open,” Mazzaro said. “It’s a battle. In spring training, everyone is playing for a job. The last two years I’ve been fighting for a spot in Oakland. I came over here and it’s the same battle, the same focus.”

O’Sullivan, who was 3-6 with a 6.11 ERA in 14 games with Kansas City after being acquired in a July trade with the Los Angeles Angels for Alberto Callaspo, came to spring training 25 pounds lighter.

The Mazzaro and O’Sullivan competition for the final rotation slot could continue beyond spring training. Both could start the season with Triple-A Omaha to keep on a regular routine until the Royals need a fifth starter.

Nate Adcock, a Rule 5 pick from the Pittsburgh Pirates, has not allowed a run and only seven hits in eight innings. He has been primarily a starter in the minors, but the 23-year-old right-hander has not pitched above Class A. If he makes the staff, it will likely be as a long reliever to begin the season.

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