It only seems Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella began battling one another years ago for duty as the Royals’ starting second baseman. It’s actually been less than two years.
The Getz-Gio competition is center stage this spring in camp largely because the Royals have so few undetermined jobs. Sure, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza are battling to be the fifth starter, but the losers merely go to the bullpen.
There’s a spot open in the bullpen, but everyone knows there’s likely to be an I-29 shuttle operating against between Kauffman Stadium and Omaha to keep a fresh arm always available.
And Brett Hayes and George Kottaras are competing to be Salvy Perez’s backup at catcher. But the position only figures to draw 20 or so starts, and both guys are newcomers little known in Kansas City. There’s little public passion attached to that decision.
Not so with Getz and Gio, where the choice is between a safer, known quality and the possibility of a significantly higher ceiling. Further, the Royals, in all likelihood, only have room for one or the other. The loser heads to Omaha.
“I don’t dwell on it now,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’ll go through spring training, and we’ll see what happens. Johnny has made definite improvements defensively. Getzie has made definite improvements offensively.”
Case in point: Giavotella has already saved first baseman Eric Hosmer from two errors with well-anticipated backup plays on hard ground balls. Getz recently rocked a homer; something he has never done in 887 career plate appearances since joining the Royals.
“Spring is going well for me so far,” Giavotella said. “I’m constantly working on different parts of my game. I feel like everything is coming together. I feel I’m playing great ball right now. I’m just looking to keep it going as spring continues.”
The offensive numbers still aren’t there, which points out the biggest question that now dogs him. It is no longer his defensive shortcomings, although he remains a work in progress with the glove, but his inability – so far – to hit as he has in the minors.
“Yeah, the key is Johnny has got to hit,” Yost said, “but we all know that he can. Oh, he can hit. He hasn’t proven that he can hit here, but he’s going to hit here. He’s just too good of a hitter (not to).”
Giavotella, 25, batted .328 over the last three seasons in the minors with a combined 89 doubles, 28 homers and 208 RBIs in 333 games. But he’s batted just .242 in 99 big-league games with three homers and 36 RBIs.
Even so, he remains confident of replicating his success if given the opportunity.
“I’ve hit everywhere I’ve been,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie. No matter where I’m at this year, I’m going to hit. I know I’m going to hit. I’m confident in my ability. It’s just a matter of getting at-bats under your belt in the big leagues.
“Getting that experience. Just going out there and just feeling comfortable.”
Getz, 29, appeared headed at times last season toward the best year of his career. But a series of injuries limited him to 64 games and heightens the question of his durability. He is the better defensive player and offers 30-steal capability – if he can stay healthy.
He is working this spring with a new batting stance after consulting with hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David. The goal isn’t necessarily to add power – at least not home run power – but to gain sufficient pop to force defenses to play him honestly.
“Probably from an average eye,” he said, “it is kind of a drastic change. Really, I’m just getting into a hitting position quicker than what I was doing before.”
Will it have the desired effect? Like everything else in this battle, that’s to be determined. Further, both players know they are being measured against one another each day.
“I certainly don’t want to add any pressure,” Getz said, “but I know what’s at stake. There’s no doubt about that. You want to bring your game every day, but it’s baseball. It’s difficult, especially in the spring because you haven’t played for a while.
“So it’s kind of a combination of shaking off the cobwebs along with competing out there. So you just kind of roll with it. Hopefully, it all comes together.”
Giavotella says much the same thing.
“When it comes to developing my skills,” he said, “I can only worry about things I can control. I know where I need to get better. I know the things I need to do to get better.”
All either can do is what everyone else is doing: watch it play out.
“I’m there,” Getz said. “I’m literally at the game. So in that sense, I’m watching. But I don’t think it’s anything like that. I can’t worry about what he’s doing, getting a hit or not, or not wanting him to do well.
“That’s just not how it’s going to go.”
How will it go?
“Let me get my crystal ball,” Yost joked. “I understand the question, but I’ve got (almost four more) weeks. I know what I’m looking for – I’m looking for the guy who gives us the best chance to win every single day. It’s as simple as that.”