The World Baseball Classic was at least partly to blame for left-handed reliever Tim Collins’ spring training struggles — struggles he appears to have put behind him.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Collins coughed up 11 runs on 15 hits in 8⅔ Cactus League innings, and his unsightly 11.42 ERA raised the specter of starting the season in Class AAA Omaha.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and Collins has been fantastic in three scoreless appearances covering 5⅓ innings during the regular season.
“There was no switch,” Collins said. “I just didn’t have enough repetitions during spring training in order to be where I needed to be.”
That was where Collins’ time with the United States for the World Baseball Classic comes into play.
“For two weeks, I pitched one inning,” Collins said. “If I had stayed in spring training, I probably would have had four appearances, and that’s big when you’re talking about a limited time to get ready. It held me back a little, but it wasn’t anything huge. It was a minor adjustment of my mechanics.”
It was a quick video study of his appearances before and after the World Baseball Classic that set Collins straight.
“I was trying to aim the ball,” Collins said. “I wasn’t trying to throw it. My leg kick was a little bit slower and my arm was a little bit slower, so the timing wasn’t there. It was real simple and it was very noticeable when I looked at video.”
Collins has been spectacular in the Royals bullpen the last two seasons, going 9-8 with a 3.49 ERA in 140 appearances. He struck out 93 in 69⅓ innings last season.
Asked whether he was ever worried about starting the season in Omaha, Collins scoffed, “No, it’s spring training. I’m not the first guy that’s given up runs in spring training. Plenty of us did it this year and plenty of us will probably do it next year.
“I’m not worried about getting sent to Omaha. If I got sent to Omaha to work on stuff, then I’d have stuff to work on. It was just about getting repetitions, because I didn’t pitch much in spring training.”
Does first-place matter now?
It’s early, and being in first place eight games into the season doesn’t really matter.
“The only day that it matters is the last day of the season,” designated hitter Billy Butler said.
Still, for the Royals there has to be a little comfort in seeing themselves atop the division rather than buried in the standings even if the season is barely a week old, right?
“Every positive thing we can see helps,” right-handed pitcher Luis Mendoza said. “Even if it’s only eight games into the season or a winning record in spring training, those are positive steps.”
In other words, it’s better than the alternative.
“It does and it doesn’t matter,” Collins said Wednesday before the series finale with the Twins. “As far as the standings go, we’ve got 154 games left. It really means nothing. But for us, it’s a confidence-booster, especially with the start we had last year.”
That rough start included a winless opening home stand during a 12-game losing skid in April that basically finished.
“We aren’t going to have many rough stretches like that, especially with our starting staff and the way the guys in our lineup are hitting,” Collins said. “It’s nice to see our name in first place, but it would be a lot nicer and a little more meaningful at, say, the All-Star Break.”
• Wednesday night marked the official 40th anniversary for Kauffman Stadium, and the cold, wet weather — it was 45 degrees at first pitch with winds from the west at 5 mph — was oddly fitting.
For the first game at then-Royals Stadium on April 10, 1973, the game-time temperature was 39 degrees with winds from the north at 9 mph.
• First baseman Eric Hosmer is back on Twitter. You can follow him at @TheRealHos35.