Johnny Giavotella embraces latest opportunity with Royals

06/30/2013 6:41 PM

06/30/2013 6:42 PM

Johnny Giavotella has never lacked in confidence, so of course he’s relishing what appears to be a genuine chance to establish himself as the Royals’ regular second baseman.

“I’m excited to really have an opportunity to be an everyday player up here,” he said. “I’m not going to put any added pressure on myself. I’m just going to go out, have confidence in what I do and have fun with the guys.”

That was Sunday morning — before Giavotella went three for four with two RBIs in a 9-8 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

“I felt great at the plate,” he said. “I stayed balanced and stayed within myself. I didn’t try to do too much. I was just showing confidence in my ability to put some good swings on the ball. It found some holes.”

Throw in a nice base-running read that led to a run in a two-run sixth inning and the game’s defensive highlight — a rangy play to field a grounder up the middle, followed by a twisting jump throw — and it was quite a day.

As manager Ned Yost noted: “You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The Royals recalled Giavotella, 25, from Class AAA Omaha after Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Twins. They cleared roster space by designating outfielder Jeff Francoeur for assignment in a corresponding move.

“I want to give him a real look,” Yost said, “but in order to get a real look, you’ve got to hit. He’s always hit in the minor leagues, so that always gives you reason to believe. The opportunity is there for him to seize.”

Giavotella spent time with the Royals over the two previous seasons but batted just .242 with a .271 on-base percentage, three homers and 36 RBIs in 99 games.

“He’s been swinging the bat really well (at Omaha),” Yost said. “We want to give him a look.”

That “really well” translates to .411 in Giavotella’s last 16 games (23 for 56) at Omaha, although that surge followed an extended slump. His overall average was up to .289.

“I just got back to what I do best,” he said. “I’ve been staying in the middle of the field, working the count and having competitive at-bats.”

The bigger issue might be second base.

Giavotella’s defense has always drawn concerns and, recently, he’s been playing primarily third base and left field at Omaha in an effort to broaden his versatility. He played second on Friday for the first time since June 15.

He sees that as a plus.

“I think playing third base makes playing second base a lot easier,” Giavotella said. “It’s a lot harder position in my opinion to play third. It’s something I’m not used to.

“The ball comes at you a lot harder, so you have to have confidence in you hands and just stay soft and relaxed. Try not to panic.”

Clearly, though, this is an offensive-driven move. The cumulative slash this season for the club’s second basemen, through Saturday, was a .234 average, a .275 on-base percentage and a .313 slugging percentage.

“I need some offense,” Yost said. “I don’t need an infielder. I’ve got infielders.”

Yost suggested Giavotella’s defensive limitations can be minimized by using utilityman Elliot Johnson as a late-game replacement — as happened Sunday over the final two innings.

“I imagine, with Elliot’s defensive prowess,” Yost said, “we’ll be able to defend for Johnny (late in games). That keeps Elliot playing every day if we have the lead.”

Outfield rotation

The decision to designate Francoeur for assignment leaves the Royals with four outfielders and sets up a three-man rotation between Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough for duty in center and right.

Dyson will play primarily center field, Lough will play primarily right field, and Cain will shift between the two positions. (Alex Gordon will continue to draw regular duty in left field).

Yost said the Giavotella/Francoeur move balances the roster by providing better late-game options for pinch-running and pinch-hitting.

Either Dyson or Johnson should now be available for pinch-running situations, while Miguel Tejada and whatever outfielder isn’t playing are better pinch-hitting options than before the move.

Tied for the top

Gordon entered Sunday tied for the American League lead in outfield assists with Chicago’s Alex Rios after getting his eighth of the season Saturday by throwing out Jamey Carroll at second base.

It’s a familiar spot for the two-time Gold Glove winner.

Gordon led the majors in 2011 with a club-record 20 assists and again last season after ranking second (to Francoeur) with 17. His 45 assists since the start of the 2011 season are 10 more than any other outfielder.

Minor moves

Veteran first baseman/designated hitter Xavier Nady, a veteran of 11big-league seasons, was released by the Royals from their Omaha roster in order to enable him to pursue a possible big-league opportunity with Colorado.

Nady, 34, is heading to the Rockies’ Class AAA affiliate, Colorado Springs, in an attempt to prove he can sufficiently overcome lingering foot concerns to play the outfield on a limited basis.

The Royals signed Nady to a minor-league contract prior to the season that contained a May 1 opt-out clause. He agreed to remain at Omaha if given the chance to opt-out later if an opportunity surfaced with another club.

Nady was leading the Storm Chasers in all three triple-crown categories — 11 homers, 43 RBIs and a .310 average — but found his path back to the big leagues blocked by Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer.

Minor details

Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy and Louis Coleman combined Sunday on a five-hit shutout in Omaha’s 3-0 victory over Iowa. All five hits were singles.

Herrera allowed two hits in his three innings, which marked his second outing since his June 25 demotion. Duffy followed with 5⅔ innings before exiting after a two-out walk in the ninth. Coleman got the final out.

Duffy struck out seven and walked two while throwing 52 of 87 pitches for strikes. It marked his second straight strong outing in his ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery.

Herrera struck out one and didn’t walk anyone while throwing 31 of 49 pitches for strikes. He is drawing duty as a starter in an effort to provide extra work in sharpening his command.

Looking back

It was 10 years ago Monday — July 1, 2003 — that Mike MacDougal set a club record for rookies by recording his 21st save by working the final two-thirds of an inning in a 6-3 victory over Cleveland at Kauffman Stadium.

The previous rookie record was 20 saves by Doug Bird in 1973.

MacDougal finished the season with 27 saves.

Etc.

• The Royals committed more than one error for the first time since June 2. Both came in the fifth inning (shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas).

• Billy Butler went two for four and has hits this season in all 10 games against the Twins — going 17 for 35, a .486 average.

• David Lough’s 10 total bases (three doubles and one homer) were the most by a Royals player since Melky Cabrera had 11 on July 3, 2011 at Colorado.

• The Royals are 7-3 this season against the Twins and 17-14 against AL Central opponents.

• Johnny Giavotella has six three-hit games in his career, and three have come at Target Field.

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