April 6, 2013

J.C. Gutierrez looking like another Tommy John surgery comeback success

Add Royals reliever J.C. Gutierrez to the list of Tommy John success stories. Like many others who underwent the procedure, which replaces an elbow ligament, he feels better than ever.

Add Royals reliever J.C. Gutierrez to the list of Tommy John success stories. Like many others who underwent the procedure, which replaces an elbow ligament, he feels better than ever.

Gutierrez pushed his fastball to 96 mph on numerous occasions Friday in working a scoreless sixth inning in a 13-4 victory over Philadelphia in the start to a three-game weekend series

It was much the same two days earlier in a scoreless inning against the White Sox in Chicago.

“Oh, definitely,” he said. “I feel stronger now, after the surgery, than I did before. I’ve got my fastball back. I’ve got my slider back. The biggest thing is I’m able to keep the ball down.”

Gutierrez, 29, had 24 saves with a 4.79 ERA over 150 career appearances for Houston and Arizona in three-plus seasons before undergoing surgery in September 2011.

The problem surfaced more than a year earlier, but trips to the disabled list in 2010 and 2011 for what was termed “shoulder inflammation” failed to resolve it.

The Diamondbacks released Gutierrez after the season. Two month later, the Royals signed him to a minor-league contract as a low-risk project.

Gutierrez made only 15 brief appearances totaling 16 innings last season in the minors, and results weren’t statistically encouraging: 15 runs and 21 hits. But he was pain-free.

An extended winter tour in his native Venezuela produced eye-popping results. Gutierrez compiled an 0.81 ERA in 24 appearances for Caracas while recording 14 saves in 15 chances.

The Royals responded, after only a few of those appearances, by putting Gutierrez on their 40-man roster rather than risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft.

“We had to put him on,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “After that, we saw pretty much all of his outings this winter in Venezuela, and he threw the ball very well.”

Gutierrez survived a few shaky appearances in spring training by closing strong and winning the final spot in the bullpen.

It helped, certainly, that he was the only major competitor who was out of options, but the Royals liked his power arm.

“Inventory plays into it,” manager Ned Yost admitted, “but Gutierrez showed us what we can be. He’s a strike-throwing machine — a really good breaking ball and a 95 mile-an-hour fastball.”

And a growing confidence.

“The first time I pitched in Chicago,” Gutierrez said, “I didn’t have any pressure on me (because the Royals trailed by three runs), and I was able to be comfortable.

“On Friday, it was a one-run lead, and I knew I have to keep it that way.”

Gutierrez stuck out the first two hitters, Michael Young and Dominic Brown, before inducing an inning-ending grounder to first by Laynce Nix. Gutierrez then pointed thanks to the heavens as he walked to the dugout.

“It felt good to come into that situation with a really tight game,” he said. “To be able to have an inning like that really made me feel good.”

Sticking to plan

Manager Ned Yost said he had no second thoughts about sticking with plans to pack Saturday’s lineup with right-handed bats against Phillies lefty John Lannan despite seeing Friday’s unit collect 19 hits in a 13-4 victory.

“It’s National League rules,” he said. “And if I don’t play these guys now, then when?’

Saturday’s lineup include three different infielders: Billy Butler at first for Eric Hosmer, Elliot Johnson at second base for Chris Getz, and Miguel Tejada at third base for Mike Moustakas.

It was the first starts of the season for Johnson and Tejada. All five players who opened the game on the bench were left-handed hitters: Hosmer, Getz, Moustakas, outfielder Jarrod Dyson and catcher George Kottaras.

One for the books

The Royals pulled off a feat Friday never before accomplished by an American League team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Never before had an AL squad been held scoreless through the first four innings of a game and then scored at least two runs in every succeeding inning.

The Royals scored two in the fifth, three in the sixth, four in the seventh, two in the eighth and two in the ninth.

The only other big-league teams to pull that parlay were the 1930 Chicago Cubs and the 1896 Brooklyn Bridegrooms.

40 and counting

Veteran lefty Bruce Chen pitched for Philadelphia in 2000-01, but that was when the Phillies played at Veterans Stadium. His one-inning appearance Friday came at Citizens Bank Park -- the 40th different stadium in his career.

Also, the three-run triples Friday by Alex Gordon and Chris Getz were the 39th and 40th in franchise history. Props if you remember the last one: Willie Bloomquist on June 6, 2009 in Toronto.

Minor details

The organization’s four full-season affiliates were a combined 0-6 entering Saturday’s games: Class AAA Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas were 0-2, while Hi-A Wilmington and Lo-A Lexington were 0-1.

Omaha second baseman Johnny Giavotella is off to a particularly tough start at zero for eight with four strikeouts.

Right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the club’s first-round pick in 2012, got a no-decision Friday for Wilmington in a 7-6 loss at Myrtle Beach (Rangers) in 10 innings.

Zimmer gave up two runs on two hits (two homers) in five innings while striking out eight and walking none. Lefty John Lamb was scheduled to start Saturday when Wilmington continued its series at Myrtle Beach.

Looking back

It was 18 years ago Sunday — April 7, 1995 — that the Royals unveiled their new grass surface at Kauffman Stadium after 22 years of artificial turf.

That wasn’t the only change.

The fences were moved in 10 feet from bullpen to bullpen and the outfield wall lowered from 12 feet to 9 feet. The walls shifted back to their original distance before the 2004 season, but the walls were lowered to 8 feet.

The 1995 changes sat fallow for 19 days because of a players’ strike.

The Royals finally opened the season on April 26 with a 5-1 victory over Baltimore. Kevin Appier threw 6⅔ hitless innings before exiting with his pitch count at 98.


Kevin Frandsen’s three-run double was the first walk-off hit of his career. He also matched a career high with three RBIs.

The Royals’ bullpen had allowed one run in 14 innings this season prior to Greg Holland yielding three runs in the ninth inning.

Dating to last season, Luis Mendoza has thrown five straight quality starts while compiling 1.97 ERA in that span (seven earned runs in 32 innings).

Jeff Francoeur is batting .536 in his career against Phillies starter John Lannan after getting two doubles in three at-bats. Francoeur is 15 for 28 with six doubles and a homer against Lannan.

Tejada got his first RBIs since July 16, 2011 while playing for San Francisco at San Diego. He now has 1,284 RBIs in his career.

Tejada also has 12 RBIs in 12 career games at Citizens Bank Park. He is batting .437 (20 for 46) in those games.

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