Spring training make or break for George

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:44 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Left-hander Chris George was once projected to be a cornerstone of future Kansas City Royals’ rotations, but this spring he is fighting long odds to even make the staff.

George was the 31st player drafted in 1998, when he went 15-0 with a 1.15 earned run average for Klein High School in Texas, where he was named high school player of the year. He turned down a scholarship to Rice to sign with the Royals and played on the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Sydney.

He was 11-3 with a 3.53 ERA in 20 starts with Triple-A Omaha in 2001 before being promoted to the majors on July 26.

His time in the big leagues, however, has been rocky. George, 25, has bounced between Omaha and Kansas City each of the past four seasons. He was called up three times last season, including once to start the first game of a July 23 doubleheader at Cleveland, but was optioned to Omaha between games after allowing 10 runs and 11 hits in three innings.

Now, George is out of minor-league options, so the Royals have to keep him on their roster or risk losing him on the waiver wire.

“I’m ready to stick,” George said. “I’m tired of taking the train back and forth. I’ve done enough moving. My goal this year is to make the team and stay. Omaha is not the place to be.”

George’s performances in the big leagues have been irregular. In 47 games, 44 of them starts, with Kansas City, George has a 14-20 record with a 6.48 ERA, allowing 300 hits in 237 1/3 innings. He has struck out 99 and walked 95.

“I just need to be consistent,” George said.

George’s fastball reached as high as 96 miles per hour at the end of last season with Omaha and he was consistently in the 87-to-93 mph range.

“I can’t give you an explanation why,” George said. “I don’t know exactly where it came from.”

The Royals tried George out of the bullpen last September, but he allowed seven runs and 12 hits in seven innings of relief. He is a starting candidate, but the club has seven pitchers seeking two vacancies in spring training. He might be moved to the bullpen, but three other left-handers — Jeremy Affeldt, Andrew Sisco and Jamie Cerda — could earn spots as relievers.

George worked on his change-up Monday while throwing batting practice.

“He has pitches that do what they are supposed to do,” Royals pitching coach Guy Hansen said. “He can’t throw Affeldt’s curveball. He can’t throw Sisco’s fastball. There’s still enough to pitch in the big leagues and do the job.”

Hansen said that most of the time, George’s mechanics are fine “but sometimes it looks like he gets in his own way.”

Another team could claim George if the Royals put him on waivers.

“Somebody could pick me up, but that’s not the situation I want to be in,” George said. “I want to be with this team.”

The Royals will play their initial intrasquad game Tuesday with Kevin Appier, Ryan Jensen and Dennis Tankersley each scheduled to throw two innings.

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