September 29, 2013

Royals catcher Salvy Perez gets a look at first base

All-Star catcher Salvy Perez started the season finale Sunday at first base. There’s a little something for the Royals, and their fans, to take into the offseason. Perez was exuberant, even by his standards, at the opportunity. Sunday’s results were mixed.

All-Star catcher Salvy Perez started the season finale Sunday at first base. There’s a little something for the Royals, and their fans, to take into the offseason.

“He’s going to play first base in winter ball,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s got tremendous hands. I just want to see if it’s an option, and I’m really convinced it is.”

Perez was exuberant, even by his standards, at the opportunity.

“I like being able to play another position,” he said. “It will help save my knees. I like that. When we play in the National League (for interleague games, Eric) Hosmer can play right field.

“And if I’m at first base, I can move to catcher (in the same game).”

Sunday’s results were mixed.

Perez failed to handle a routine pop-up in the third inning, and he recorded just two put-outs. But he also had three hits, including a two-run homer that opened the scoring in a 4-1 victory over the White Sox.

Keeping Perez’s bat in the lineup is a key element in the experiment.

“What a day he had offensively,” Yost said. “I think he’s got a real shot at winning the Gold Glove (as a catcher), and one day he has a chance of winning the Silver Slugger at his position, too.

“I just think he’s going to be an All-Star for years to come.”

Perez got the opportunity Sunday to play first when the Royals chose to rest Eric Hosmer, who ended the the season with a .302 average. Perez prepped for the chance this week by taking extra grounders.

“He’s got the hands to bail him out on tough hops,” Hosmer said, “but it’s all footwork to get your feet in the right place. He’s played (first) in Venezuela a couple of times. He’ll have an idea of what he’s doing there.

“It’s something he might have to learn. Later on in his career — we, obviously, plan to be here a long time — if he needs a day off (from catching), he might have to play first. I might have to go to right.”

Yost characterized the move as one of creating additional roster flexibility.

“It gives us the option,” Yost said, “if something would happen to Hos in a game, and Billy (Butler) is DHing. If you don’t want to lose your DH, you’ve got to have another viable option.

“Today is as good of a day to see if he can do it. ... He’s going to play a lot of first base in winter ball.”

Perez plans to report around Nov. 20 to Tiburones de La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. The Royals don’t mind him playing, but they don’t want him to do any catching; they want him to rest his knees.

“I’m going to play first base and DH,” he said. “I played first base when I was young in Venezuela. I’ll feel comfortable over there. Hosmer has been teaching me how to play first base.”

Asked why, as an All-Star catcher, he was so excited about playing first base, Perez responded, “Why can’t I be the best first baseman, too?”

Step one: Work on pop-ups.

Hosmer at .300

Sure, it means something to finish at .300 or higher. Hosmer admits that after closing the season at .302 when he didn’t play in the season’s final game.

“It’s important,” he said. “I’m close to it, and it’s nice to finish above it. As I always say, for me, it’s all about the RBIs. I want to drive in runs. That’s what we’re supposed to do in the middle of the order — drive in runs.

“But to hit .300, from where I started and after last year, is definitely a big number for me.”

Hosmer was batting just .244 with one homer and 11 RBIs in 37 games through May 18 before mounting a charge over the final 4 1/2 months: He finished at .302 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs.

Did the Royals protect Hosmer’s average by not playing him in Sunday’s game? Perhaps, although he could have gone hitless in four at-bats and still finished at .2998, which would have rounded up to .300 in the official stats.

Hosmer’s 680 plate appearances ranked second on the club to Alex Gordon’s 700. Gordon didn’t play Sunday, either.

Holland: Another record

Greg Holland added another personal entry to the Royals’ record book when he worked out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the ninth inning by striking out the last two hitters.

Holland finished the season with 103 strikeouts, which matched the franchise record for a reliever set in 1971 by Jim York.

“I didn’t know that until the game ended,” Holland said. “Maybe I should have got another one. I was hoping for a ground-ball double play, to be honest with you.”

Holland also recorded his 47th save, which extended his club record. He moved past the previous record of 45 by Dan Quisenberry (1983) and Jeff Montgomery (1993) in last Thursday’s victory in the series opener.

Theft kings

The Royals didn’t have a stolen base in their final game, but they still led the majors in thefts for the first time since 1994 and for the first time in a nonstrike season since 1979.

They finished with 153 steals — five more than Texas.

Jarrod Dyson led the Royals with 34 steals (in 40 attempts), while Alcides Escobar was perfect in 22 attempts. Emilio Bonifacio was 16 for 18 after arriving Aug. 14 from Toronto in a trade.

The Royals led the majors with 140 steals (in 115 games) in 1994, which was three more than Montreal. The Royals had 207 in 1979, when Houston was second with 190. The Royals also led the majors in 1971 and 1978.

Looking back

It was 24 years ago Monday — Sept. 30, 1989 — that Bret Saberhagen established a franchise record that still stands when he won his 23rd game of the season in a 6-1 victory at Oakland.

Saberhagen lead the American League in victories in finishing 23-6 and also led the league with a 2.16 ERA, 12 complete games and in throwing 262 1/3 innings.

The result: Saberhagen was a runaway winner in the Cy Young balloting, receiving 27 of 28 first-place votes. He previously won the award in 1985 and was inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

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