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The Royals have decided to baby Luke Hochevar

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Pitcher Luke Hochevar #44 of the Kansas City Royals pitches in a game against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)

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Luke Hochevar is far from the kind of 22-year-old hotshot starting pitcher teams typically shut down in September. He actually turned 28 today, and he’s currently sporting a 5.29 ERA in 96 big-league starts (and four relief appearances). Nevertheless, the Royals have decided to have him hang it up for the season because of concerns about his workload.

The Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton has the quotes:

“Could he finish the year?” manager Ned Yost asked. “Yeah. He wants to. But for me, it just doesn’t make any sense to continue to push his innings when he’s in a good spot. It gives us an opportunity to look at somebody else.”

The decision likely has a lot to do with last year’s reduced workload, the result of a sprained elbow ligament that sidelined him from mid-June until early September. Hochevar ended up throwing just 103 innings then before jumping to 198 this year.

“He’s had a real nice second half,” Yost said, “and the innings are way up. He ends on a real good note. He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready to go 230 innings next year without missing a beat.”

Well, let’s not go that far. Generally, one has to be pretty good to pitch 230 innings. Hochevar is ending this season with a 4.68 ERA. Yost is right about the second half improvement -- he went 6-3 with a 3.52 ERA and a particularly impressive 1.13 WHIP in his final 12 starts -- but he got some help from the schedule makers there. Overall, his peripherals suggest that little has changed. This year’s strikeout rate is a little worse than his career average, the walk rate is a little better and the home run rate is almost exactly the same.

Hochevar may yet make the jump from No. 4 starter to No. 3 starter, but it’s hard to see him having much more upside than that. With his salary likely to increase to $3 million or so in arbitration next year, it’s still to be determined whether he’s going to fit into Kansas City’s long-term plans or not.