April 2009

Will Zack attract more fans to Kauffman?

You’ve got to hand it to Zack Greinke for not being big-headed. He can’t quite believe that folks are going to come to Kauffman Stadium just to see him pitch.

He electrified a sellout crowd last Friday night with a brilliant 6-1 victory over the Tigers, his second straight complete-game victory. He’s leading the league not only with four victories but with that can’t-be-any-better 0.00 ERA and, oh yes, those 36 strikeouts.

He’s still got a string of 43 innings without giving up an earned run, even though that error-caused run scored the other night. He’s got the ability to throw a 98-mph fastball and a 62-mph curve with equally devastating results.

Beyond that, he’s got that boyish grin and good looks, a refreshingly quirky outlook on life, great intelligence and a genuine respect for the fans. And everyone knows how he overcame some personal issues and took a firm grip on his great talent and potential.

All things considered, he could become the first pitcher since the days of Bret Saberhagen or David Cone to be a real box-office draw for the Royals. Last Friday night, it was Fireworks Friday (although those were postponed because of high wind) and Buck Night, attractions that certainly swelled the crowd.

We’ll get a better read when Greinke pitches on Wednesday night at Kauffman against the Blue Jays. The only “extra” is it’s College Night Happy Hour with cheap seats and concessions for high schoolers and collegians.

The biggest attraction is young Zack Greinke.

–Dick Kaegel

Hillman covered up Soria injury to protect the team

After the TV cameras and microphones went off on Friday afternoon, I asked manager Trey Hillman about the Royals’ decision to keep Joakim Soria’s injury under cover.

“So you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want the other teams to know, basically?”

“Correct,” he responded and then asked to go off the record. Therefore I cannot tell you what he said.

Yet it’s interesting that he could have taken that opportunity to publicly further justify the decision, amplifying his on-record remarks about keeping Soria’s shoulder stiffness secret so the Royals’ opponents would not know he was unavailable to pitch. But he did not, in effect sticking his chin out and letting the critics take a punch if they wanted.

The Royals did not believe Soria’s stiffness was severe enough for him to go on the disabled list but they did not want the Rangers and then the Indians to know he might not be ready to pitch, thereby allowing the enemy to plan accordingly. So Hillman did not use Soria’s problem as a reason, for example, of going with Kyle Farnsworth in the ninth inning when he gave up the game-ending homer to Texas’ Michael Young. Or to explain why Soria had not pitched over a six-game, eight-day stretch.

Hillman was willing to take the bullets for hiding the injury because in doing so, he felt he was doing the best thing for the Royals. He played tricks with the truth, certainly, but I really can’t censure him for that. Why tip off the opposition that your premier closer is unavailable?

–Dick Kaegel
 

Soria out at least 3-5 days with stiff shoulder

There is something wrong with Royals closer Joakim Soria after all.

Manager Trey Hillman said on Friday that Soria is expected to miss at least the next three to five days because of tightness behind his right shoulder.

“There is a problem but it’s not a DL situation,” Hillman said. “He doesn’t have any structural damage but he does have a tight right shoulder on the back side. We’re looking at a minimum of three to five days.”

Both Hillman and Soria insisted earlier this week that he was fine despite not appearing in a game for eight straight days. He returned on Wednesday night to post a save at Cleveland but apparently felt stiffness on Thursday.

General manager Dayton Moore said the stiffness came to the Royals’ attention last Saturday at Texas while he was warming up as a potential replacement for Zack Greinke who finished the game.

Hillman said he’d kept Soria’s situation under wraps until now to avoid tipping off opposing teams.

The closing role now will be handled by a “committee” until Soria returns, he said

— Dick Kaegel

Bannister recalled for Wednesday start; Waechter DLd

Starting pitcher Brian Bannister was recalled from Triple-A Omaha by the Royals on Tuesday and reliever Doug Waechter was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Bannister will start Wednesday night’s game at Cleveland instead of left-hander Hector Ramirez. Bannister, after a rough first start for Omaha, has logged nine straight shutout innings while Ramirez has struggled for the Royals.

This move puts Ramirez back in the bullpen, essentially covering Waechter’s spot in middle relief.

Waechter has a lateral strain in his right elbow.

“He’s been having trouble getting loose and felt some clicking in there and was examined by Dr. (Steve) Joyce on Monday,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

Although Waechter told the Royals he felt he could pitch through it, the club decided to put him on the disabled list. Waechter had not given up a run this season until Friday night at Texas when the Rangers jolted him for two solo home runs in one inning of the Royals’ 12-3 victory.

Bannister was optioned to Omaha late in Spring Training along with fellow right-hander Luke Hochevar after the Royals decided to use Sidney Ponson and Ramirez in the last two rotation spots.

On Sunday, Bannister was used to pitch just two innings, both scoreless, in Omaha’s 3-0 victory over Albuquerque. That brief outing was in anticipation of the move with Waechter and Ramirez.

That gave Bannister nine shutout innings in his last two starts after a rocky first outing in which he gave up five runs in four innings. Overall, his ERA is 3.46 with a 0-1 record.

Hochevar also has been pitching well with a 3-0 record and 1.89 ERA in three starts for Omaha.

Ramirez, signed last winter to a $1.8 million contract, was supposed to give the Royals a left-handed starter in an otherwise all right-handed rotation. But he had a lackluster Spring Training and was penciled in for just two starts this month. He made one on April 11 against Cleveland and went 4 1/3 innings, giving up six runs in a 6-1 loss.

He’s also made two relief appearances and his overall ERA is 11.12 to go with his 0-1 mark. In 5 2/3 innings, he’s given up 12 hits including two homers and seven runs.

Waechter becomes the third player on the Royals’ disabled list. Third baseman Alex Gordon underwent right hip surgery on Friday and is expected to be out until at least late June. Right fielder Jose Guillen has a tear in his right hip flexor and could be back as early as Saturday.

Waechter’s stay on the DL is retroactive to April 18.

–Dick Kaegel

Ouch! Gordon to miss 10 to 12 weeks

Third baseman Alex Gordon is expected to be out of action for 10 to 12 weeks after undergoing successful hip surgery, the Royals announced on Friday.

Surgery to repair a tear in the labral cartilage of the right hip was performed on Friday morning at Vail, Colo., by Dr. Marc Philippon.

The timetable means that Gordon would not return until late June at the earliest.

Gordon was injured last Saturday in a game against the New York Yankees.

–Dick Kaegel

Gordon goes on DL, Teahen to play third base

Alex Gordon’s right hip injury proved to be much more serious than imagined.

Gordon, the Royals’ third baseman, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Thursday with a labral cartilage tear of the right hip. He will undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the tear on Friday by Dr. Marc Philippon in Vail, Colo.

The Royals said no estimate on how long Gordon might be out would be available until after the procedure. He was injured Saturday and missed the next two games but played the last two games.

To take Gordon’s place on the roster, the Royals recalled outfielder Mitch Maier from Triple-A Omaha.

Manager Trey Hillman said that Mark Teahen would replace Gordon as the starting third baseman.

Teahen, whom Gordon replaced as the third baseman two years ago, has been playing in right field for the Royals’ other disabled regular, Jose Guillen. He is on the disabled list, also with a right hip injury, but is expected to return by April 25.

“It seems like Teahen is the natural choice because he’s the most natural third baseman and, obviously, offensively we want Teahen’s bat in the lineup,” Hillman said.

“I think it makes us the best defensively on that side.”

For right field, it most will be Maier, a left-handed batter, or Willie Bloomquist, a right-handed batter, depending on the matchup with pitchers.

This could be a big break for Maier, who was getting considerable playing time last season after being recalled from Omaha on July 24 when Joey Gathright went on the disabled list. However, on Aug. 20, he was hit in the face by a pitch at Cleveland and missed 19 games with a cheekbone fracture.

Maier batted .370 (10-for-27) in six games for Omaha with two homers and nine RBIs. He’ll join the Royals on Friday night when they open a series at Texas.

Last season Maier hit .286 in 34 games for the Royals after posting a .316 mark for Omaha. He’s considered a good gap hitter – 14 homers is his Minor League high – and an outstanding outfielder.

Bloomquist, though primarily an infielder, has started three games in right field this year. He’s batting .231.

Teahen, in his two seasons at third base for the Royals, built a reputation as a solid defender. He played third base once in Gordon’s place this year and made 19 starts there last season.
 
“There’s always the possibility depending on what the matchups are, if we decide we want Mark back out in right field on any given day, then we might have Mike Aviles at third and Tony Pena back at short,” he said.

Aviles, the regular shortstop, logged a game at third base last Monday while Pena played shortstop and made at least one dazzling play.

The injury apparently occurred when Gordon slid into second base during a force-out play in Saturday’s game against the Yankees. He aggravated the hip when bolting from the batter’s box in his next at-bat and was replaced after five innings by Teahen.

After missing the games on Sunday and Monday because the hip was sore, Gordon returned to play Tuesday and Wednesday. In those two games, he was 0-for-6 and struck out four times.

It’s been a struggle at bat throughout the first 10 days of the season for Gordon. He’s just 2-for-21, .095, with one homer, three RBIs, in seven games.

Hillman noted that Gordon insisted that he was ready to play this week.

“He’s extremely tough,” Hillman said. “I was hesitant but he was so adamant about being able to play. But there was soreness there and I think it’s a testament to just how tough he is. Then, obviously, after a couple days he realized that he might need to go ahead and get something done.”

— Dick Kaegel

Zacks feat puts him with Royals elite

Here’s a statistical nugget from the Elias Sports Bureau: Zack Greinke is the only pitcher in Royals history to pitch at least five scoreless innings in four consecutive starts. He shut out the Indians for five innings in Monday night’s 4-2 win and now has 25 straight scoreless innings. The record for a starter is 33 straight zeros by Kevin Appier in 1993.

The three Royals pitchers with three straight starts with at least five scoreless innings are Bret Saberhagen in 1989, Appier in that ’93 run and David Cone in 1994. That’s pretty elite company for the Zackmeister.

That old feeling: It’s good to see the Royals getting their alumni more involved in the last two or three years. For the last two springs, alums like Willie Wilson and Joe Randa have been brought into camp to help the Minor Leaguers. For the grand re-opening of Kauffman Stadium there were 27 alums on the field, from Marty Pattin to Bill Pecota, and a bunch of them were at the Welcome Home Luncheon on Monday. Appreciation for the past is all too rare among today’s ballplayers so some indoctrination about the Royals’ history is a great idea.

Second the motion: One of the club’s second base hopes for the future, Johnny Giavotella, had a big game for Single-A Wilmington on Monday – seven RBIs and two home runs including a grand slam. A second-round pick last year, he broke in with a .299 average for Single-A Burlington.

–Dick Kaegel

 

 

Leg injury puts Guillen on 15-day disabled list

Right fielder Jose Guillen was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said prior to the home opener.

Moore disclosed that Guillen has a grade 2 tear of the right hip flexor and is expected to return after the 15 days.

“Jose wanted to play through it but this is the right thing to do for him and the team,” Moore said.

Guillen appeared to pull up while running out a ground ball in the ninth inning on Thursday at Chicago where he served as the designated hitter.
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The Royals had to make room on the roster for starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, who was pulled up from the Triple-A roster to start Friday’s home opener against the New York Yankees. Guillen’s move to the disabled list apparently kept third-string catcher Brayan Pena on the Royals’ roster.

Manager Trey Hillman had Guillen out of his lineup against the Yankees on Friday but said only that he had a sore right hip. Hillman replaced Guillen in right field and the cleanup spot with Mark Teahen, batted David DeJesus third in Teahen’s spot and put Alberto Callaspo at second base against left-hander Andy Pettitte.

— Dick Kaegel

Costa clears waivers, goes to Omaha

 

Outfielder Shane Costa is back with the Triple-A Omaha Royals. He cleared waivers on Thursday and was outrighted to Omaha where he’s spent most of the last four years.

Costa had a good Spring Training as he recovered from wrist surgery last summer.

In recent news regarding ex-Royals, pitcher Joel Peralta has signed with Colorado, pitcher Jimmy Gobble has signed with the Chicago White Sox and infielder Esteban German has signed with Texas. All are on Triple-A contracts.

Just so you know, German is the third baseman on the Oklahoma team with German Duran as the second baseman.

–Dick Kaegel

Zack attack and its Hello, Central

Hello, Central?

Zack Greinke finally answered the call at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night by pitching six-plus shutout innings and ending his 0-6 career blight there. Royals 2, White Sox 0.

“My offspeed was working and I treated it like a playoff game almost,” Greinke said afterward.

Offspeed, full speed, it all worked for Greinke.

“This is just what me and Gil are supposed to do every time out, I think,” he said.

Gil Meche did all right in the opener with seven innings, leaving with a 2-1 lead that was lost. But, yeah, that’s what Gil and Zack are supposed to do.

And when Juan Cruz and Joakim Soria did what the bullpen is supposed to do, get nine straight outs, the Royals were 1-1 with only 160 games to go.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has trumpeted the Royals as a coming team for a couple of years now.

And here’s what he said after Wednesday night’s game: “They got stronger. I have said that for the last couple of years and this year I said that in Spring Training. This ballclub is going to compete and they are going to give a lot of people headaches. They have a good ballclub all around.”

That’s coming from the manager of the defending division champs.

So maybe it is time for the Royals to say, Hello Central, here we are.

–Dick Kaegel