February 2010

KC at Bat: Sorias shoulder no problem so far

Closer Joakim Soria has had no problems with the shoulder that troubled him early last season, according to manager Trey Hillman.

“He’s looked real good, he really has,” Hillman said after Saturday’s workout. “I tried to not to badger him but I’ve asked him probably three times how his body feels without getting specific about the shoulder but he says he feels very good. His command has been very good, his mechanics have been very free and easy. So far so good with him.”

One of Hillman’s goals is to keep Soria out of the two-inning save situations that he converted five times last year. A six-out save usually runs up so many pitches that Soria isn’t available the next day.

“You might still see the four-out but I’d like to stay away from the six-out,” Hillman said.

The Royals accelerated their schedule on Saturday afternoon, fearful that predicted rain would strike before the workout was finished. But the forecasters were way off. The Royals finished in mid-afternoon under sunny skies. “About an hour ago it was supposed to be blowing 35 or 40 miles an hour with the rain right behind that,” Hillman said. “I’m glad they missed, I’m glad we were able to stay out on the field. Really, in my opinion, we’ve already had enough adjustment days. This has been more like Florida Spring Training early on than Arizona.” Earlier the Royals had to adjust the schedule three straight days because of chilly, wet weather. . . . Rain is still forecast for Sunday. The Royals are scheduled to move into Surprise Stadium for batting practice at 9 a.m. MT as the city of Surprise holds a FanFest for the public. At 12:30, a home-run contest is scheduled between Minor League players from both of the complex teams. The Royals will use Mike Moustakas, who had 16 homers for Class A Wilmington; Ernesto Mejia, who led the Venezuelan Winter League with 14, and Scott Thorman, who whacked 20 in the Pacific Coast League last year. The Texas Rangers will deploy Justin Smoak, Chad Tracy and Mitch Moreland who combined for 54 homers last year. Tracy is the son of Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy. . . . The Royals’ pitching schedule for the intrasquad games on Tuesday and Wednesday has been adjusted. On Tuesday, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, Adam Bostick and Edgar Osuna each will throw two innings and Danny Duffy and Francisco Rosario each will throw one inning. On Wednesday, the two-inning pitchers will be Brian Bannister, Dusty Hughes, Carlos Rosa, Bruce Chen and Nelson Payano with Josh Rupe going one inning. The “innings” won’t necessarily be three-out innings. “We’ll monitor it by pitches,” Hillman said. “Typically it can go 15 per inning. If it goes to 17, if we feel like a guy’s conditioning is OK, we might let him go 17 to get through a hitter or something.”

— Dick Kaegel

KC at Bat: Greinke sails through live BP

Now here’s some good news for Royals fans. Zack Greinke pitched a round of live batting practice on Wednesday at the Royals’ Spring Training workout and pitching coach Bob McClure was asked how he did.

“He did fine, same as I’ve seen in the past. No difference,” McClure said.

You could interpret that as saying that Greinke is in Cy Young Award form.

Manager Trey Hillman was impressed by what he saw from right-hander Aaron Crow, the Royals’ top draft choice last year.

“He looked good. I’d like to see a little better command but it’s really early. But he’s got great stuff,” Hillman said.

Asked if Crow might be trying too hard, Hillman responded: “Yeah, especially in his first Major League camp. He doesn’t want to pitch in the Minor Leagues, he wants to be in the big leagues.”

That said, Crow hasn’t pitched much in the last two years and the Royals are figuring on starting him in the Minors, possibly at Double-A Northwest Arkansas although that’s up in the air.

Hillman also saw fine work from starter Kyle Davies and a non-roster right-hander, Philip Humber. A right-hander, Humber has logged 18 Major League games with the Mets and Twins. He’s been a starter in the Minors and last year went 7-9 with Triple-A Rochester. . . . “The other thing I wasn’t really planning on being impressed with was some of the swings,” Hillman said. “We had some really good swings. It’s not what I was focusing on but it grabbed my attention.” . . . The Royals got through Wednesday’s second full-squad workout without any injuries. But the training staff will be on high alert on Thursday because, as Hillman puts it, the third day seems to take its toll on tight or aching muscles. . . . The Society for American Baseball Research has a deal for you. SABR is giving away the download of its Emerald Guide to Baseball 2010. It’s been developed using the old guides once published by The Sporting News, Spalding and Reach. It has all the Major and Minor League statistics for 2009 plus team histories, contact information, 2010 schedules, a year in review essay, post-season box scores, transactions and obituaries among other things. To download, go to http://sabr.org. If you’re looking for a bound version, that’ll cost you $24.95 at www.lulu.com

–Dick Kaegel

KC at Bat: Butler tries his hand at TV interviews

Affable Billy Butler was testing his skills as an interviewer  in the Royals’ camp on Monday, hoping to take over the “Mark Teahen Show” which had been shown on the Kauffman Stadium video board and on the Royals Insider TV show.

With cameraman Stephen Spiegel trailing him, Butler accosted teammate David DeJesus who was just finishing up an interview with several reporters. Butler jumped in with a burning question: “What’s your favorite color?” DeJesus was quick with his answer: “Royal blue.”

Butler merrily asked questions of other players and this reporter who just as merrily gave him a “no comment.”

The Teahen production was a whimsical, mostly nonsensical series of give-and-take with teammates. But now that he’s gone to the White Sox, the job of host was open.

Or was it? With the Royals Insider TV show canceled this year, Butler may be auditioning for a gig that no longer exists. That would be too bad. Billy seemed to be having a ball.

Catcher Jason Kendall joining the Royals after his father, Fred, had been a coach in KC prompted the topic of other father-son combinations with the club. There were three combos as players: Hal and Brian McRae, John and Dusty Wathan and Floyd and Brian Bannister. There was the manager-player combo of Tony Pena and Tony Pena Jr. and, of course, Hal McRae and John Wathan also were Royals managers. Royals staffers Colby Curry and Curt Nelson dug into the matter. Nelson, director of the Royals Hall of Fame, noted there were other Royals players who had big-league fathers including Bob Boone (Ray), Chris Haney (Larry), Kurt Stillwell (Ron), Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (Mel) and Danny Tartabull (Jose) although the dads didn’t play with the Royals. The only brother combination to play for the Royals apparently was George and Ken Brett. . . . Umpires supervisor Steve Palmero dropped by the Royals’ camp to meet with manager Trey Hillman, coaches and staff about proposed rules changes and interpretations. As usual, Palmero is interested in ways to speed up the game, one of his pet projects. . . . Former Royals infielder Tony Graffanino visited ex-teammates in the clubhouse. He’s retired now after 13 Major League seasons with seven teams, bowing out last year in a brief stint with Cleveland.

–Dick Kaegel

KC at Bat: Just call Zack the Last Samurai

Royals manager Trey Hillman was interested to hear about Zack Greinke’s fascination with samurai swords. Greinke was given one by Mizuno, the Japanese equipment firm, for winning the AL Cy Young Award. Hillman, of course, is well-acquainted with the Japanese culture after five years of managing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

“Being over there for five years I have a little more feel for how much respect that exudes on who it’s given to,” Hillman said. “What does Zack think about it?”

He was told Zack thought it was “way cooler” than the Cy Young trophy.

“Way cooler? I hope he doesn’t break it out in the clubhouse,” Hillman said.

Bo Jackson used to fire arrows from a crossbow in the Royals’ clubhouse, sinking them into a target parked perilously close to the shower room entrance. No one was skewered, thankfully, as they toweled off. Anyway, Hillman didn’t seem anxious to have a samurai sword on the premises.

Greinke, by the way, will get half of that gap filled in the right side of his mouth where two teeth were pulled last week. The wisdom tooth won’t be replaced, of course, but its broken neighbor that also had to be extracted will be. . . . Here’s how Hillman looks at the Tigers’ signing of outfielder Johnny Damon:  “Arguably he had one of his best years ever last year. Some people are going to argue that it was the ballpark (new Yankee Stadium) that he was playing in (or) his comfort level and the support cast that was around him playing for the Yankees. Even with Johnny being a veteran at the age he’s at, I wouldn’t discount anything that he brings to that team in a bigger ballpark.  He’s a guy that’s been making adjustments his whole career. He’s needs to flatten that swing out a little bit and hit more line drives instead of those fly balls over that short porch in Yankee Stadium. He’ll make the adjustment. That’s the way we’ll approach him – another dangerous tool for Jim Leyland in that lineup.” . . . Catcher Vance Wilson was given the day off on Sunday to recover from the aching back he experienced during Saturday’s workout. . . . Most of the position players who are in camp early to train voluntarily took the day off on Sunday.

–Dick Kaegel

KC at Bat: Fox plans 142 telecasts of Royals games

Get ready to point the rabbit ears on top of the ol’ TV set. Fox Sports Kansas City will beam out 142 Royals games this season.

They’ll get warmed up with a couple of Spring Training telecasts – the first on Tuesday, March 23, when the Cubbies are at Surprise Stadium. That will go live at 3:05 p.m. CT and then re-air in prime time, 8 p.m. CT. The second game will be at 7:05 p.m. CT on Friday, April 2, when the Royals are in Arlington, Texas, for a game against the Rangers.

Then will come 140 regular-season games starting with Opening Day against the Tigers on Monday, April 5, at Kauffman Stadium. There will be 69 road games and 71 home games telecast. In addition to the Fox schedule, ESPN will carry the Royals’ July 4 game against the Angels from Anaheim, Calif.

The Fox telecasts will be preceded by a 30-minute pre-game show, Hy-Vee Royals Live, and followed by the Boulevard Royals Live show with Joel Goldberg as host.

Manager Trey Hillman wants to find spots to play Alberto Callaspo but he indicated that outfield is not likely. “We’re going to have to figure out a way. You don’t want to leave a .300 hitter sitting on your bench and one that had the slug that Alberto did,” Hillman said. “Thankfully he’s got some utility value. He looked real good at third base, he’s had some history of playing some outfield although once we signed Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, in my mind that could of took Callaspo out of the mix.” But Callaspo could play at second behind Chris Getz or third behind Alex Gordon or be used as a DH. “We’re not going to leave that bat sitting on the bench very often,” Hillman said.
 . . . The Royals will play some sort of simulated games on March 1, 2 and 3 as they loosen up for the first exhibition game against the Rangers on March 4. . . . Hillman doesn’t think Aaron Crow, the Royals’ top draft pick last year, would be considered for this year’s Major League bullpen. The former Mizzou right-hander is likely to be in the Minors somewhere as a starter. “With an arm that good and stuff that good, from a development background, my preference would be for him to continue to throw as many pitches as possible,” Hillman said. . . . Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who reported to the Surprise Complex earlier in the month, is back after returning home to the Dominican Republic for a short visit. Only a few position players have not yet been spotted in camp, including Callaspo, Jose Guillen and non-roster utility player Wilson Betemit. The first full-squad workout isn’t until Tuesday. . . . Zack Greinke will meet with the media after Saturday’s workout. Supposedly this will be his only give-and-take with reporters this year except on days he pitches. Greinke values his time and doesn’t want his Cy Young celebrity to interfere with his work.

— Dick Kaegel