First baseman Eric Hosmer wants to believe this is all part of the growing process. For him and the Royals. That the current disappointment, which seems absolutely suffocating at the moment, will pay dividends down the road.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
“I know that’s not what people in Kansas City want to hear,” he said. “And trust me, we’re not the ones who want to be saying it. But I do think this really will help us. When guys are struggling in the future, we’ll know how to get out of it a lot quicker.
“We’ve just got to stay focused and look at the big picture. There are still two months left. We’ve got to go out and just continue to get better. We’ve got to take strides forward and not have any more months like this.”
The Royals enter tonight’s series opener against Cleveland on a five-game skid and with 21 losses in their last 27 games. They own the American League’s worst record at 40-61 and find themselves rooted in the Central Division basement.
There might be nobody who embodies that disappointment more than Hosmer, the can’t-miss future superstar who is scuffling at .232 and without a homer in his last 110 at-bats.
Nobody envisioned this.
“Watching him in spring training,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “I thought he was going to hit 35 home runs this year. I still see Hos having a great career. Everybody goes through ups and downs.
“Look at Josh Hamilton. He hit .223 in June and .145 this month. He got booed the other night in Texas. That’s a guy who, the first two months, was the greatest player in the universe. That’s how hard this game is.”
Hosmer is still just 22 and, to date, hasn’t been booed at Kauffman Stadium — at least not loud enough for anyone to notice.
“It’s been a tough year for me,” he admitted. “It really has. In the beginning, I hit the ball well and had nothing to show for it. I really do believe I was swinging well at that time. But it built up and built up…
“I was telling myself nothing was wrong, but you look at the stats…and, obviously, the numbers aren’t where you want them to be. I felt if I was doing my part — not that I’m a numbers guy, but if my numbers were there — I’d be helping this team more.”
Hosmer recognizes now that he began to press, which made him overly aggressive at the plate. An all-out-attack approach meant his swing got longer. He missed more pitches he should be able to handle. He tried still harder, and it got even worse.
“It just built up to where, mentally, it got so frustrating,” he said. “I was going up there and trying to do way too much every single at-bat. Now, I’m taking the approach of, ‘Hey, you’ve just got to let it come to you.’
“You can’t try to do too much. When you think back on times when you got big hits, you were patient and able to wait for that pitch. You were able to wait for the pitcher to make a mistake.”
The final two games in a disastrous four-loss weekend in Seattle produced a few encouraging signs. Hosmer lined a single in his final at-bat Saturday before going two for four on Sunday — including a clutch two-run single with two outs in the eighth inning.
“There are still two months left,” he said. “I’m feeling better at the plate. I’ve been seeing the ball better even though the results really aren’t there (until the last two days). It’s different.
“I went through a stretch last month where I felt I didn’t make very good contact very often. Now, I’m starting to get that good contact back and starting to feel really good.”
Hosmer figures to get every opportunity to play his way back to productivity. The Royals show no inclination to limit his at-bats or ship him back to Class AAA Omaha for a confidence-building remedial tour.
“There’s too much there,” manager Ned Yost said. “It’s going to click. It’s like anything else. You keep playing it out. He’s too valuable. We’ve got to keep playing him. Let him work through it.
“He shows glimpses of his stroke getting a little better, and then it starts to get a little long again, and he gets a little impatient. But this is all valuable experience for him to learn how to work through something like this.”
Teammates say Hosmer’s demeanor and approach remain unchanged.
“He’s been the same guy,” said third baseman Mike Moustakas, a close friend. “He plays the game the same way all of the time. He approaches every day the same. It’s pretty cool to see a young guy carry himself the way he does.”
Francoeur added, “The good thing I see with Hos is every day, he comes in here and, every day, he thinks, ‘This is the day I’m going to get it turned around.’ For me, if you have that attitude, and that ability, eventually it’s going to happen.”
Hosmer points to designated hitter Billy Butler as a role model for daily preparation.
“You see the only thing he worries about every day is that his approach is there,” Hosmer said. “It doesn’t matter what the pitcher has. Once I learn to be like that, I’ll be better.
“That’s one thing about this league — you learn about yourself. The quicker I can learn how to be consistent in my approach every day, that will really help me in the long run.”
Hosmer dismisses the suggestion that he feels additional pressure from being often portrayed as the face of the club’s youthful renaissance. He prefers to see himself as simply part of a transformation generation.
“It’s all of us,” he said. “We’ve all come up together and, when it’s all said and done, we’re all going to be in the center of this thing. It’s going to be a core group that takes us where we want to be. I really think that. It helps all of us to be in it together.
“We know it takes more than one or two people to get everything moving in the right direction. When you look at it as a group of five or six guys, it gives all of us a sense that the weight of the world isn’t on our shoulders.”
Even so, Hosmer is quick to accept responsibility for his own poor season.
“Obviously, this isn’t what I wanted from my second year,” he said. “I know the fans are disappointed in how I’m playing and how the team is playing. This is not how we drew it up. The main thing now is just to go out and play.
“This is a young group of guys that is so used to winning. In the minor leagues, we’d move up levels and keep winning. But these are the big leagues. It’s a completely different animal. This league takes a couple of years to figure out.
“For the next two months, our biggest goal is just to take a step forward. We want to learn how to come up big in the late innings or make the big play in a late situation. I think these next two months can be a big step for us going forward.”
Hosmer remains convinced it will get better — for him and the Royals.
“Yes, 100 percent,” he insisted. “This is a tough game. Guys go through bad years. It’s not like basketball where LeBron James is going to go out and, no matter what, put up 30 points. It doesn’t work that way in baseball. You just learn from it.
“When this franchise is in the playoffs again year after year, it won’t be because of just me. It will be because of me and Salvy (Perez) and Moose and (Danny) Duffy and all of our younger guys. All of us are the faces of the franchise. We’re all in it together.”
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.