Always interesting going into Spring Training to look at the uniform numbers that will be popping up on new guys or on old guys who will be changing digits.
Manager Ned Yost will move up from No. 2 to No. 3, honoring his late, great friend, NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The number was vacated when Yuniesky Betancourt was traded to the Brewers.
The new shortstop, Alcides Escobar, takes over 2. Other newcomers and their numbers include Jeff Francis, 26; Vin Mazzaro, 32; Melky Cabrera, 53, and Jeff Francoeur, 21. Lorenzo Cain, the center fielder who came in the Zack Greinke deal, gets 6 and he’s already been warned by its former owner, Willie Wilson, that he expects a lot.
Cabrera wore 28 for the Yankees but switched to Bobby Abreu’s old 53 in 2009 after his buddy signed with the Angels. The Royals’ Kanekoa Texeira yielded 53 and took over 50 from bench coach John Gibbons. Nobody knew what number Gibbons was anyway because he always managed to wear some sort of jacket, even in 90-degree weather. There are some who suspect Gibbons never wears a uniform top. If he does this year, it’ll be 49.
Doug Sisson, the new first-base coach, will have 11, long worn with distinction by Hal McRae.
There’s no sentimentality involved for long-term favorites who were traded. Outfielder Derrick Robinson takes over David DeJesus’ 9 and infielder Jeff Bianchi was assigned Greinke’s 23.
For the Brewers, Greinke will wear 13 and maybe that’s why his buddy, Mike Aviles, is switching his Royals number from 30 to 13.
Who’s No. 1? That’s back on the back of center fielder Jarrod Dyson. The Royals’ most distinguished 1 was Cookie Rojas.
No surprise that Royals pitching coach Bob McClure is facing a big void in his rotation with Zack Greinke gone. But McClure also feels a personal loss for the guy he helped guide to the 2009 Cy Young Award.
McClure worked with Greinke over a five-year period and every Spring Training there seemed to be some project that the two men worked on. The spring before the Cy Young, for example, refining a changeup was the focus and it made a huge difference in Greinke’s game in ’09.
“I’ll miss him,” McClure said. “When you’ve been around somebody as long as we’ve been around each other and gone through a lot of things – ups and downs, goods and bads – part of you is kind of missing.”
McClure wasn’t all that surprised by Greinke’s great Cy Young season. He had given then-manager Trey Hillman a head’s-up.
“The year before you could kind of see it coming. I remember telling Trey about halfway through the season before the Cy Young that he’s about ready to pop, it’s about ready to happen,” McClure said. “You could just kind of tell. I’ve played with guys and had the same thing happen – when you just walk out there and know you’re going to beat somebody. Then he took into the next season it kind of snowballed.”
There were a lot of things going on with Greinke as his success slipped last year. He was trying to cope with all the demands that his Cy Young fame engendered, he was adjusting to married life, he increasingly became annoyed by the Royals’ slow progress toward contention. And there was something else.
“When you’re that competitive and you have a year like he did, you end up trying to do more maybe,” McClure said.
That’s what happened with Bret Saberhagen after his Cy Young season in 1985. He went from 20-6 to 7-12 the next year and later realized that he was just pressing to be Mr. Perfect in ’86 instead of just relaxing, enjoying the game and letting things flow naturally.
Although there were rumbles that, at times last year, Greinke was perceived as not being as competitive or as focused as he was in ’09, McClure brushed that off.
“When I talked to him between the lines and talked to him between innings, it was a little different than when he would talk before or after a game,” McClure said. “I think there were times when it got away from him a little bit and he got a little predictable and then two runs in that inning turned into four.”
Now Greinke is with Milwaukee where, perhaps, he’ll be as fortunate as McClure was in his playing days. McClure had a fine year as a starter for the Brewers in 1982 and wound up pitching in the World Series that year.
Surely Zack Greinke is going to catch some luck and maybe even some run support on Friday night against the Rangers. He goes into his seventh start still looking for his first victory. A year ago he was 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA after six starts.
His ERA this year is just 2.27 but the problem is the Royals are averaging just 2.6 runs when he starts a game. By contrast, Luke Hochevar, 3-1, is getting a healthy 6.3 runs a game.
Greinke couldn’t have pitched any better than he did last Sunday at Tampa Bay where he held the Rays to one run in an eight-inning complete game. Ah, but the Royals scored nada and he lost because he centered a slider that Evan Longoria hit out. The Zackmeister threw just 87 pitches and 65 were for strikes. He never reached a 3-ball count.
Alex Gordon hit his second home run for Triple-A Omaha in a 9-2 loss to Oklahoma City. . . . Left-hander Mike Montgomery won his Double-A debut, going 5 2/3 innings and giving up two hits and one run in Northwest Arkansas’ 3-1 win over Springfield. He struck out eight and walked four. Third baseman Mike Moustakas hit in his eighth straight game (13-for-29, .448) with his sixth home run and is .420 overall. . . . Right fielder Jamar Walton eased his 1-for-26 start with a homer, double and two RBIs but Single-A Wilmington lost to Salem, 11-3. . . . Outfielder Rene Oriental is 10-for-25, .400, in a six-game hitting streak for Single-A Burlington.
Who does Zack Greinke have to fear most on the Rays when he starts on Sunday? No, not Evan Longoria, who is 0-for-10 against Zack. Not Carlos Pena, 3-for-21 (.143) or Carl Crawford, 4-for-19 (.211). It’s that pesky Jason Barlett, the Rays’ leadoff batter who is 5-for-10 with three walks against the Royals’ ace.
Lefty prospect Mike Montgomery made his first start since being promoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas and it lasted only 1 2/3 innings. No, he didn’t get knocked out, he got rained out. Before the rain, he gave up one hit, a walk and no runs with two strikeouts against Arkansas at Little Rock. He was 2-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts for Single-A Wilmington with 33 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. . . . Jordan Parraz’s two-run homer lifted Triple-A Omaha over Iowa, 3-1, and Blake Wood recorded his fourth save. . . . Jairo Cuevas pitched eight strong innings for his second win as Wilmington beat Winston-Salem, 3-1. First baseman Eric Hosmer’s two hits raised his average to .421. . . . Billy Butler marked his three-year anniversary of his first Major League game on Saturday night. It was May 1, 2007, when Billy debuted against the Angels and went 2-for-4. He singled in his first at-bat against Bartolo Colon. Manager Buddy Bell had him batting seventh and playing left field.
There are some big Zack Greinke doin’s set for next Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. It’ll center around him accepting his American League Cy Young Award from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
He’s gotten it before – at the writers’ New York dinner last winter – but this time he gets it in front of the hometown folks before a game against the Red Sox.
It’ll all start at 7 p.m. CT on Friday, April 9, so get there early. The Royals’ other Cy Young winners, Bret Saberhagen and David Cone, will participate. So will George Brett, Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff.
The Zackster also will get his Players Choice Award as 2009’s best AL pitcher. He’s already designated the cash prize that comes with it from the Players’ Association to the Boys and Girls Club of KC.
And for the fans there’s a “Cy Young Celebration” tee-shirt featuring Greinke, Saberhagen and Cone. The shirts will go to the first 35,000 fans so that should take care of just about everybody. (The joint seats just under 38,000.)
— Dick Kaegel
Billy Butler continued his hot hitting in Friday’s 8-4 win over the Dodgers. He went 3-for-3 which gave him 13 hits in his last 22 at-bats and raised his Cactus League average to .429 (21-for-49).
The Royals put the Dodgers at a disadvantage by using the American League DH while Dem Bums played it National League straight by letting the pitcher bat. But it was OK’d by LA manager Joe Torre, an agreeable sort.
“We had to get it cleared. Thankfully we were playing a team that didn’t mind. They’ve got to agree to it,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
And, with Butler’s three singles and Kila Ka’aihue’s home run and single, the Royals’ DH slot was 5-for-5 with three runs scored and three driven in. Thank you, Joe.
By the way, Ka’aihue leads the club with three homers and is hitting .342 but still is regarded as having little chance to make the club. But who knows?
Hillman was pleased by the two left-handers who succeeded Zack Greinke to the mound. Dusty Hughes gave up a run-scoring single immediately after replacing Greinke in the sixth but then worked two scoreless innings.
“Up to today it’s been a little bit of a very inconsistent and rough spring for him from what we wanted to see,” Hillman said.
John Parrish, who missed last season after shoulder surgery, worked a perfect ninth with one strikeout.
“Very good, very in command, best I’ve seen pitch-to-pitch from him,” Hillman said.
When it was mentioned to Royals manager Trey Hillman that some scouts thought Mike Moustakas might make a catcher some day, he gave it a verbal shrug.
“I think he’s athletic enough to do anything. The body type profiles more to a corner than up the middle or behind the plate,” Hillman said.
Moustakas, though, is likely to stick at third base where the Royals feel he’s a better fielder than he’s given credit for. Hillman especially likes his arm.
Moustakas was among seven non-roster players cut on Thursday and there are likely to be more roster reductions soon, particularly after Friday morning’s “B” game is in the books.
Zack Greinke says he’s not thinking about that Opening Day date with the Tigers, not yet anyway. “Just trying to think about pitching good right now. I’m not there yet but it’s better than it usually is at this time of spring,” he said. “Just the command. The changeup’s way better. And fastball command has been pretty good – it just has good life on it but mainly the changeup is way better than it usually is this time of year. Usually the secondary pitches are bad early on in spring.” . . . Against the Rockies the other day, Greinke faced his old batterymate, Miguel Olivo, and struck him out on a changeup. . . . The only telecast from Surprise this spring will come on March 23 when the Royals will meet the Chicago Cubs at 3:05 p.m. CT. But the MLB Network will carry three KC games – next Monday night against the White Sox, March 21 against the Rockies and March 26 against the Dodgers (the last two on tape delay).
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.
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.
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