CLEVELAND — It was the day after Father’s Day on Monday at Progressive Field when the Royals staged a certain highlight to their first fathers’ road trip.
The dads — there are 21 on the trip — took batting practice against interim batting coach George Brett (aka Hall of Famer George Brett).
“George was throwing to all of them,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s right around their era. It was a pretty cool experience to take batting practice against George Brett.”
The clear winner was Jose Chen, the father of Bruce Chen.
“I think Chen’s dad can hit the ball farther than Chen can,” manager Ned Yost cracked. “There were three that were pretty good. Bruce’s dad, Hoch’s (Brian Hochevar) dad, and Mendy’s (Alfredo Mendoza) dad.”
The best line of day might have come from Luke Hochevar who, when Mike Gordon stepped to the plate, wondered aloud whether a broken bat was in the offing.
“My dad is having a great time,” Chen said. “I’ve been playing for so long, but we’ve never had anything like this. Sometimes, you have a wives’ trip or a family trip. The dads’ trip is definitely a highlight.
“My dad gets to come to the clubhouse, take pictures, go to the field, take batting practice, be with me on the road, take the plane, take the bus … see what it’s like.
“But being able to take batting practice, and to have George Brett throwing batting practice to him? Oh, my goodness. It’s like the best trip ever for every single guy. And the best part? We’re playing well.”
Right-hander Felipe Paulino’s recovery from Tommy John surgery is on hold because of soreness and stiffness in his back, which surfaced after he began his rehab assignment last week at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
Paulino skipped his scheduled start Sunday as a precaution. If all goes well, he could return Wednesday to the mound at Arkansas.
“We want to see him have a good side session and a functional return on fielding his position,” trainer Nick Kenney said, “for us to feel comfortable with him pitching on Wednesday.”
Paulino, 29, worked five scoreless innings June 11 against Arkansas in his first official game action since exiting a June 6, 2012, start against Minnesota because of a sore elbow. He underwent surgery on July 3.
How good has the Royals’ pitching been since the calendar turned to June?
The staff entered Monday’s series opener at Cleveland with a 1.80 ERA through the month’s first 15 games — or one earned run for every six innings pitched.
Toronto ranked second in that span at 2.21. No other club was better than 2.50.
It’s a complete staff effort, too.
The Royals’ starters had a combined 2.21 ERA, which led all 30 teams. Houston was second at 2.34. The club’s bullpen had an 0.95 ERA, which ranked second to Toronto’s 0.76.
First things first
The Royals achieved the first major goal in their recovery from a 4-19 stretch in May: getting back to .500. Monday’s victory evened their record at 34-34.
“It’s important to get there,” Yost said. “But now it’s important to get past it, and to continue to move forward. Just getting there is fine. That’s the starting point. That’s square one.
“Now, we’ve got to continue to battle hard and get past it.”
The Royals, after a 17-10 start, were 23-32 after a 3-0 loss to Minnesota on June 4 at Kauffman Stadium. They are 11-2 over the last two weeks.
“This is huge to be at .500,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “I think we’re in second place right now. You always say it’s early, but we needed to make up some ground after that tough stretch. That’s what we’re doing.”
The Royals haven’t been .500 this late in the season since 2003, when they last finished with a winning record at 83-79.
At you own risk
The odds Sunday shifted significantly in the Royals’ favor when Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon called for an intentional walk in the sixth inning to Jeff Francoeur.
First, some background:
The move came after a double by Elliot Johnson in a 2-2 game, and it set up a matchup between Rays starter Roberto Hernandez and Alcides Escobar.
In Maddon’s defense, Francoeur had tied the game in his previous at-bat with a homer against Hernandez. But the strategy failed when Escobar lined an RBI single to left on Hernandez’s first pitch.
The Royals went on to win 5-3. And here’s the key stat: The Royals have won the last seven games when Francoeur received an intentional walk.
It was 10 years ago Monday — June 17, 2003 — that the Royals set a franchise record by scoring 12 runs in an inning. It occurred in the sixth inning of a 14-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals trailed 3-1 when Aaron Guiel opened the inning by drawing a walk against Kenny Rogers. The inning included seven singles, two walks, two hit batters and two doubles. Sixteen batters came to the plate.
The Twins used four pitchers. Raul Ibanez and Ken Harvey each had two hits in the inning. Angel Berroa made two of the three outs.
• Indians reliever Brian Shaw had stranded nine straight inherited runners before yielding Eric Hosmer’s game-tying double after replacing Carlos Carrasco in the eighth inning.
• Greg Holland is eight for eight in save opportunities since May 30.
• The Royals’ bullpen has allowed two earned runs in its last 37 innings and now sports a 2.63 ERA.
• James Shields has pitched at least six innings in 29 straight starts: all 15 this season with the Royals and his final 14 last season with Tampa Bay.