HOUSTON -- When Opening Day starter Jose Lima was given the option of heading straight to Detroit from Arizona rather than accompany the team to Houston for a pair of exhibition games Lima decided to stay with the team.
"I said no, no, no, I want to go with the team to Houston," Lima said Saturday before the Royals' game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. "My home is here, I live here and I'm probably going to die here. I know I'm not going to play (in the two exhibitions) but let me come breathe in this great air and visit my old friends."
The popular pitcher made the rounds Saturday, with hugs and handshakes for friends and fans who came out early. Several former teammates from his days as an Astro (1997-2001), members of the Houston coaching staff and numerous fans, stadium employees and members of the media all stopped by to say hi to the man the Bayou City knows as Lima Time.
"I had some good years here, but you know I think I'm a better pitcher now than I ever was when I pitched here," Lima said. "I've learned how to pitch instead of just throwing the ball. I learned how to pitch instead of just pitching without thinking about it. That time when I was out of baseball playing in the Independent League made me really think about what I was doing. Those seven-hour bus trips make you think, they make you appreciate this (being in the Major Leagues)."
Today Lima is drinking it all in in this, his second tour of duty in the Major Leagues. For the first time in his career he will be the Opening Day pitcher. Life is good.
"When (manager Tony Pena) told me (about starting Opening Day) it was a big thrill for me," Lima said. "That's something every pitcher wants to do at least once in his career."
Lima enjoyed his visit to Minute Maid Park but it wasn't always that way. he was a 21-game winner for the Astros in 1999 but went 7-16 with a 6.65 ERA with a league-leading 48 home runs allowed in 2000 when the Houston moved from the Astrodome to what was initially known as Enron Field, prompting the right-hander to nickname the park "Ten-run" Field.
"This is still a hitter's park," he said. "But I love coming here."
Roster set: The Royals reassigned infielders Denny Hocking and Joe McEwing before Saturday's game, leaving the club with 27 players on the Major League roster. After the game the Royals placed third baseman Chris Truby (wrist) and pitcher Scott Sullivan (back) on the disabled list to get the roster down to the mandatory 25 players for Opening Day.
Pena said two non-roster invitees made the team, catcher Alberto Castillo and outfielder Emil Brown.
The breakdown of the Opening Day roster includes 12 pitchers, two catchers, seven infielders and five outfielders.
The pitchers are Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Anderson, Denny Bautista, Shawn Camp, Jaime Cerda, Nate Field, Zack Greinke, Runelvys Hernandez, Lima, Mike MacDougal, Andrew Sisco and Mike Wood. The catchers are John Buck and Castillo and the infielders are Angel Berroa, Ruben Gotay, Tony Graffanino, Calvin Pickering, Mike Sweeney and Mark Teahen. The outfielders include Brown, David DeJesus, Terrence Long, Eli Marrero and Matt Stairs.
Rotation set: Pena has set the rotation for the first two series of the regular season and Kansas City's opponents, Detroit and Anaheim, have also named their starting pitchers for those series.
Right-hander Lima will be Kansas City's Opening Day starter on Monday (April 4) against Detroit right-hander Jeremy Bonderman. Right-hander Hernandez will start against Tiger lefty Mike Maroth on Wednesday at Comerica Park and right-hander Greinke will pitch the series finale on Thursday (April 7) against Detroit right-hander Jason Johnson.
Pena will send right-hander Bautista against former Royal Paul Byrd when Kansas City visits the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Friday, April 8. Lima will make his second start on Saturday, April 9, against Angels right-hander Kelvim Escobar. Left-hander Anderson is the scheduled starter on Sunday, April 10, against Angels right-hander Bartolo Colon.
Making history: One of the pitchers bound for the minor leagues the Royals brought to Houston was Barry Armitage, who worked a scoreless inning of relief against the Astros.
That appearance made history, as Armitage is the first professional baseball player from South Africa ever to appear in a Major League game, regular season or exhibition. The 25-year-old was 4-7 with 11 saves and a 2.11 ERA in 53 games at Class A Wilmington last season. In 2002 Armitage made the Midwest League All-Star team, becoming the first South African to make a minor league All-Star squad.
Extra bases: Shortstop Angel Berroa was back in the lineup. Berroa had sat out the last three games because of a bruised knee. "He's all right, the only reason we kept Berroa out was as a precaution," Pena said. "Good to see he is 100 percent." ... Nate Field started and pitched one scoreless inning, finishing off a fine spring by the right-hander. Field allowed just one earned run in 10 outings for a 1.13 ERA. ... Designated hitter Calvin Pickering hit his second homer of the spring. This one was an opposite field shot off Roger Clemens. ... Mike MacDougal had another impressive outing. The right-hander pitched a perfect sixth inning, retiring the top of the Houston order -- Adam Everett, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell -- including swinging strikeouts of Biggio and Bagwell. "He's throwing the ball a lot better," Pena said. "His breaking ball is getting better and better and he's able to throw the changeup for strikes." Pena confirmed the lineup he used Saturday night will likely be the order he uses Opening Day against the Tigers. The nine: David DeJesus in center field, second baseman Ruben Gotay, first baseman Mike Sweeney, designated hitter Calvin Pickering, right fielder Matt Stairs, shortstop Berroa, left fielder Terrence Long, catcher John Buck and third baseman Mark Teahen. "Eli Marrero (and) Emil Brown, those guys are going to play against right-handed pitchers," Pena said. "I just have to use the hot bat." ... Pena, the 2003 American League Manager of the Year, added another honor on Saturday. The Royals' manager and former manager of the Astros' Triple-A affiliate, served as godfather to Brooke Purpura, daughter of Houston general manager Tim Purpura and wife Shari. The baptism was held at Annunciation Catholic Church in Houston Saturday. Pam Gardner, Astros president of business operations, served as godmother. ... Royals CEO David Glass and president Dan Glass attended Saturday's game as guests of Drayton McLane Jr., owner of the Astros. ... The Royals can be forgiven if their timing is a little off this weekend. On Friday they were in Arizona, on Mountain Standard Time. Saturday they were in Houston, on Central Time. Following Sunday's game they will head to the Eastern time zone for the opener at Detroit before going to Anaheim for a series against the Angels. To top it off Saturday night was the beginning of daylight savings time, which means a lost hour of sleep.
On deck: Bautista and the Royals close out their exhibition schedule with a 1:05 p.m. CT game against Houston and Brandon Duckworth at Minute Maid Park.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.