Royals designate Nomo, recall prospect Hochevar

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Hideo Nomo's career in the majors might be over.

The Kansas City Royals designated the right-hander for assignment Sunday, perhaps ending his 12-year career in the big leagues. Pitcher Luke Hochevar was called up from Triple-A Omaha.

Nomo was among the Japanese pioneers in the big leagues, and threw two no-hitters in the majors. He was trying to make a comeback at the age of 39 after having elbow surgery in 2006, but pitched only three times and 4 1/3 innings for the Royals this year.

Nomo gave up nine runs on 10 hits and four walks for an 18.69 ERA.

"I told him how much we appreciated his efforts and the energy that he brings in a very quiet and humble way," said first-year Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "He's the kind of a guy who makes people around him better without saying anything because he's so professional and because of what he's done as a major league player here in the United States and also what he did in Japan."

On April 10, Nomo pitched in relief against the New York Yankees for his first appearance in the majors since July 15, 2005, while with Tampa Bay.

Hochevar was set to make his second career major league start in the finale of a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics.

It wasn't an easy decision for Hillman, who managed in Japan for the Nippon Ham Fighters the past five years before taking the Royals job in October.

"We don't anticipate having room for him at Triple-A right now, which would effectively mean he would be out of a job," Hillman said. "He was very professional, very appreciative of the opportunity and sorry it didn't work out. I told him I was sorry it didn't work out for a longer period of time and [that I wasn't able to give him] more chances to prove he could pitch. It's unfortunate timing, but I believe we made the right decision for what we've got to do for our club in trying to move forward and trying to win games right now."

Nomo threw only three innings in 2006 and did not pitch last year. He was the NL rookie of the year in 1995 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and is the winningest Japanese pitcher in major league history with 123 victories.

"It's kind of weird," Kansas City left fielder Mark Teahen said. "Everyone in here knows how long he's been in the game and what he's done in the game. He's been around a long time. I don't know what the future holds for him. I'm sure it was hard for Trey, too, because of how big he is in Japan and how big Nomo is in Japan, to be the guy who designates him. We're a young team and have to see what we've got with the young guys.

"I don't know if this is the end of the road for Nomo or not."

Nomo, nicknamed The Tornado, has a career record of 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA with the Dodgers, New York Mets, Milwaukee, Detroit, Boston, Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

Many Japanese stars have followed in Nomo's footsteps and found baseball success in the United States.

"You look at all the players since him ... his success obviously opened the gates," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He made a big impact."