SURPRISE, Ariz. – There were 33 pitchers in Kansas City Royals uniforms at spring training Tuesday. The biggest name was the guy who wasn't here.
Zack Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, is gone. He and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt were traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in December for four prospects — outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and right-handed pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Without Greinke, who was 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 229 1-3 innings in 2009, the Royals lack a true ace and a guy who generated a lot of welcome buzz for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since the 1985 World Series team.
"It's time for guys to step up," Royals manager Ned Yost said Tuesday. "There are very few clubs that have a pitcher that has the ability that Zack Greinke has. He's one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball as far as I'm concerned. Everybody else has what we have — a bunch of real good solid kids that can compete. We just have to find out who those five are going to be.
"It's not easy. Nobody can take a Zack Greinke and replace him because he's just too good. You just find the five best guys and go forward with it."
Luke Hochevar, the first pick in the 2006 draft, is the leading candidate to be the Royals starter on opening day. He has a 19-32 record with a 5.60 ERA in the majors and has never won more than seven games in a season. Plus, he was limited to 17 starts last season because of an elbow injury that put him on the disabled list for 2 1/2 months.
A new addition to the Royals, left-hander Jeff Francis, won 17 games in 2007 with the Colorado Rockies. But he is 8-16 with an ERA higher than five since then, and he missed the 2009 season after shoulder surgery.
Bruce Chen led the Royals with 12 victories last season, but from 2006-09 was 1-13 in the majors and missed the 2008 season after having elbow surgery. Kyle Davies, who is 42-56 with a 5.49 ERA in the majors, figures to be in the middle of the rotation. Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan are the other starting candidates.
"Losing a guy like Greinke from just the whole team's perspective, he's our ace," Davies said. "He's a very consistent and a very good pitcher. Does everyone in the rotation have to feel they have to pick up the slack? No. You just do whatever you're capable of doing and it's all going to work out.
"If you're capable of throwing 200 innings, you do that," he said. "If everyone just does exactly what they are capable of doing and not trying to do too much, we'll be fine."
O'Sullivan, who went 3-6 with a 6.11 ERA in 14 games with the Royals, said he learned from Greinke.
"Even with him everyone has to step up and do their part," O'Sullivan said. "If we go out as individuals and take care of our part, do our job, then we'll be fine. Zack is one of the top pitchers in baseball. Me personally I learned a lot from him. I sat down and talked to him to how to properly go over a lineup before you pitch and prepare yourself four days between your starts. I took advantage of the time I had with him."
While the Royals' rotation is thin, they have a glut of left-handers in the minors who could help soon, including John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and Everett Teaford. Right-hander Nate Adcock, a Rule 5 pick from the Pittsburgh Pirates, will be given an extended look in spring training.
While the Greinke trade may have weakened the Royals in 2011, Yost believes it will help the club in the future.
"You look at what it does for our organization," Yost said. "We took a guy that was very instrumental in helping us win ball games every five days and we plugged in three kids at the major league level who are going to be instrumental in helping us win every day. That was key."