March 2010

KC at Bat: Cautious approach for reliever Cruz

Reliever Juan Cruz has yet to see any Cactus League action and probably won’t for a while. Coming off a right shoulder strain that cost him nearly two months late last season, Cruz is taking it slow.

“Is he limited? No. Is he a little bit behind the pitching schedule of some of the other guys? Yes,” manager Trey Hillman said.

Cruz was the last pitcher to report to camp and he’s trying to build up his shoulder. He was 3-4 with a 5.72 ERA last year but got into just 46 games. He’s in the second year of a two-year, $6-million deal.

The Royals had a lot of fun with Kansas City Wizards soccer player Korede “K” Aiyegbusi who served as the ballboy for Friday’s game against the Rangers. The 5-5 defender is from London and apparently wasn’t up to speed on baseball or the game’s humor. So when he was sent to find the “key” to the batter’s box or to fetch a box of “curveballs” or “sliders” he was eager and willing to go. “He was outstanding,” Hillman said. “He got the batter’s box unlocked just in time for the game. He was on his way to the bullpen for a box of sliders but an unnamed staff guy called him back, not knowing exactly what was going on. So that unnamed staff guy is seriously in my doghouse.” The umpires played along. “One guy took the bull by the horns. He’s the one who sent him to the bullpen,” Hillman said. . . . Catcher Manny Pina, drilled by the Rangers’ Neftali Feliz in Friday’s game, had just a bruised right bicep and was back on the field Saturday. There was no bad history between the two players, Pina said. In fact, they were roommates when both were with the Rangers’ Double-A club at Frisco. Feliz visited Pina on Friday night to make sure he was OK. The fastball just got away from him. . . . Jose Guillen played right field in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers, pounded a long double to right-center field and moved around the bases in good form. . . . “I’m getting there, I’m feeling healthy so it’s matter of getting the timing back,” Guillen said. “I didn’t play a lot last year. I had two surgeries and it’s a matter of hard work, getting more playing time and getting that rhythm back. I know what I need to do from there.” . . . The biggest relief for Gil Meche after his two shutout innings on Saturday was no pain in his back. “I just hope it never comes up again,” he said. “With the work I put in – not to toot my own horn – but I did a lot of things they wanted me to do with the back to ensure I wouldn’t have any problems. Everything has worked out pretty good.”

— Dick Kaegel

 

Podsednik gets off to a fast start in Cactus opener

Nice way to get out of the box for new Royals left fielder Scott Podsednik. First inning: Sharp single to right field off Rangers No. 1 starter Rich Harden. Then, promptly, a steal of second base and, when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s throw struck his leg and the ball rolled into left field, it was on to third base. As Jason Kendall, the second batter, hit an excuse-me tap to third base, Podsednik was home.

The Royals had struck first. Alas, the 1-0 lead morphed into a 13-3 deficit, but at least Pod showed something.

“I was kind of nervous today,” he said. “I was more excited than anything. We were all looking forward to this first game and getting out there and playing a little bit. . . . I feel like I’ve been around long enough that I don’t feel like I have anything to go out and prove but we are kind of the new guys in camp so you want to go out and show that you’re ready to go.”

Unfortunately, the Royals pitchers didn’t seem to be quite ready. Kyle Davies and Robinson Tejeda made too many pitches and gave up too many hits and runs but, hey, let’s not panic. They didn’t.

“I didn’t throw as many strikes as I would like to but the one curveball that got hit out wasn’t a bad pitch. It was just middle of the plate, down,” Davies said, noting Saltalamacchia’s three-run blast. “The kind of stuff you work on in Spring Training, for me it’s getting myself in a good position to throw a lot of strikes. I walked one guy and on four straight pitches and you look at and say, well, there’s some stuff to improve on and that’s what Spring Training is for.”

Davies didn’t try to get too fancy in his first outing.

“Pretty much fastballs and changeups today. I threw two curveballs and one of them left the ballpark,” Davies said. “Mostly it was fastballs and my biggest thing in the past has been fastball command so the one thing that I’m stressing in Spring Training is let’s get the fastball over the plate first. Let’s throw 70 percent of them for strikes and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Tejeda also tried to keep it simple.

“My arm feels good and so far the velocity’s good and I think I’ve got pretty much control on my ball. I haven’t worked a lot on my breaking pitch yet but it looks like it’s going to be there, too,” Tejeda said. “Today I threw the changeup and the slider but I was pretty much working with my fastball.”

–Dick Kaegel.

 

DeJesus joins Ankiel as intrasquad swat star

David DeJesus put it succinctly when he talked about Rick Ankiel’s performance in Tuesday’s intrasquad game: “Everything he hits is a home run.”

That was true. He belted two solo homers – one off Luke Hochevar, one off Minor Leaguer Danny Duffy – as his team rolled, 6-0. He teed off on Hochevar’s changeup and Duffy’s breaking ball.  In his other at-bat, Ankiel didn’t hit the ball – lefty Adam Bostick struck him out. Alberto Callaspo, batting right-handed, also homered off Duffy.

DeJesus had three at-bats and belted a triple, a double and a single.

“I just wanted to stay relaxed at the plate,” DeJesus said. “It’s way different doing (batting practice) with the pitchers behind the screen. When you get out there with no screens, you feel like you lock in a little better and it’s definitely always good when you get your first day with three hits.”

He could have had two triples but stopped at second base because he knew the inning was going to be halted at that point anyway. (Three innings were waved off because the pitchers had reached their pitch limit.)

Ankiel thought he got a little help on his second home run by the light Arizona air. “Definitely an Arizona home run,” he said.

Manager Trey Hillman liked what he saw from his offense – there were 13 hits in the five innings – despite skipping live batting practice early on in camp.

“I don’t think we were too far behind considering we didn’t take batting practice the first two days,” Hillman said. “If we hadn’t done well offensively today, by at least one side, I’m sure these guys would’ve grumbled that we missed those two days. But it looked like the mistakes from the pitchers got hit. They got some balls out over the plate.”

But he saw some good things from his pitchers as well.

“Hoch left a changeup up but other than that, he pitched very well, was very efficient. I thought (Aaron) Crow did a real good job. Even though he fell behind, he did a real good job of getting back in the count,” Hillman said.

And he was impressed by Rule 5 draft choice Edgar Osuna, a left-hander.

“You can see the pitchability,” Hillman said. “This is the second time in a row I’ve seen a good breaking ball – it’s got depth and sweep to it. He’s deceptive, especially with the changeup. He’s not afraid to throw to both sides of the plate. He threw Billy Butler a nice cutter inside and followed it up with a changeup and it resulted in two foul balls. But the only reason is because it was Billy Butler. He could’ve struck a lot of right-handed hitters out with that pitch coming in glove-side instead of using the changeup away.”

Most of all, though, Hillman liked his defense. The only error was a wide throw by Hochevar.

“Very clean. We had one error. I was very pleased with the defensive play,” Hillman said.

For Wednesday’s second intrasquad game, Hillman is switching the lineups around. Ankiel will be back but as a designated hitter; ditto for Jose Guillen. Mike Moustakas will get a shot at third base and several other non-roster players are in the two lineups as well. The pitchers will include Brian Bannister and Dusty Hughes.

Before Tuesday’s intrasquad game, Mike Aviles threw from shortstop for the first time in camp. He’s recuperating from Tommy John surgery in his right elbow so he was cautious but made about 15 of the long throws without a problem. He played second base in the game.

Outfielder Scott Podsednik was nicked in the hand by a pitch that glanced off the knob of his bat but he was OK.

–Dick Kaegel