CHICAGO — Second baseman Johnny Giavotella shows signs of smoothing off some of the defensive rough edges that long threatened to block his path to regular big-league duty.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
The latest example came in Friday’s 7-5 victory over the White Sox when, in the third inning, Giavotella made a fine running catch on a pop by Alex Rios in short right field — and then turned and threw out Dewayne Wise’s who broke from third after the catch.
It was, in manager Ned Yost’s words, a “heads-up play,” but Giavotella’s improvement is far better reflected in his smoother, more fluid execution on routine plays.
“Without a doubt,” he said, “I’ve worked my (backside) off since I was drafted (in 2008) and went to Low-A. I realized I wouldn’t get to the big leagues unless my defense caught up with my offense.
“It’s still not to the level where I want it to be. I still have a long way to go to be the defender I want to be, but I think I’ve made big strides in becoming a good second baseman.”
Giavotella has yet to show the run-production bat that propelled him through the minors, but the Royals remain convinced that will come. His defense, though, was an ever-present concern and was a big reason for his return this year to the minors.
“He’s going to hit,” Yost said. “He’s hit everywhere he’s been. My focus is on his defense. I like what I see. He looks smoother. He turned a tough double play the other day and looked much better doing it. His range is more fluid. His hands are softer.”
Infield coach Eddie Rodriguez points to two reasons for that improvement.
“He had the tendency of really going too hard at the ball,” Rodriguez said. “It was like two trains colliding. So we slowed him down behind the ball. What that does is allow him to select the hop he wants to field, keep his feet positioned and throw.”
The second adjustment was to stop Giavotella from coming set too early.
“While the pitcher is going into his delivery,” Rodriguez explained, “he’d come in and be stationary. He’d set up too early. What that caused is, when the ball is struck, he’s got to re-start (rather than flowing toward the ball in a fluid motion).
“Now, he’s timing the delivery of the pitch. As the ball is getting to the contact area, he’s coming set. He’s more fluid. A body in motion stays in motion. That’s what I’m trying to get him to do.”
The sample size of Giavotella’s big-league time at second base — just 76 games — is probably insufficient to draw conclusions from the major defensive metrics. Even so, the Fielding Bible plus-minus ratings show him at plus-one after a minus-two in 2011.
“Without a doubt,” he said, “I feel a lot better out there. I feel comfortable and confident. It’s good to know all the hard work that you know you’ve put in is paying off.”
Perez at DH
It isn’t hard to see why Yost juggled his lineup Saturday to find a spot for Salvy Perez as the designated hitter when backup catcher Brayan Peña drew his usual pairing with veteran left-hander Bruce Chen.
Perez entered the game with a 12-game hitting streak after going two for three with a two-run homer and a walk in Friday’s 7-5 victory. He made it 13 games with a single in the second inning; that’s a career best and the best this season by any Royal.
Since Perez returned June 22 from knee surgery, he leads all regular American League catchers (minimum 50 games in that span through Friday) in average (.313), hits (66), runs (31), doubles (15) and slugging percentage (.512).
Saturday marked the first time, in 96 career games, that Perez served as the DH. The Royals put Billy Butler, their usual DH, at first base in place of Eric Hosmer.
Dropping the hammer
Greg Holland is perfect through 12 save opportunities since becoming the Royals’ closer following a July 31 trade that sent Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati for two minor-league pitchers.
The 12 saves matched Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney for the most among American League pitchers since July 31.
Holland is 2-1 with a 0.98 ERA in 17 appearances since replacing Broxton with 23 strikeouts in 181/3 innings. He is 6-2 with 1.74 ERA in 51 games since returning May 11 from an early-season rib injury with 21 holds and saves in 22 opportunities.
Class AAA Omaha looked to close out its best-of-five series at Albuquerque, a Dodgers affiliate, in the Pacific Coast League playoffs after taking a 2-1 series lead Friday by holding on for a 7-4 road victory.
Veteran lefty Doug Davis was Saturday’s scheduled starter for the Storm Chasers, who are the defending PCL champions. Mitch Maier and Anthony Seratelli hit homers in Friday’s game, which started after a rain delay of 2 hours, 3 minutes.
A fifth game, if necessary, will be tonight at Albuquerque. The series winner will play either Sacramento or Reno for the PCL title.
It was 36 years ago Sunday — Sept. 9, 1976 — that Willie Wilson stole a base for the first time in his big-league career. It came in the ninth inning, after replacing John Mayberry as a pinch-runner, of a 6-5 victory over the California Angels at then-Royals Stadium.
Wilson stole second base against reliever Mike Overy and catcher Terry Humphrey. The Royals won the game in the 10th inning on George Brett’s walk-off RBI single.
That steal was the first of Wilson’s franchise-record 612 stolen bases in 15 seasons with the Royals. He finished his 19-year career with 668 steals, which ranks 12th in major-league history.