On Thursday night, when his low line drive buzzed through the Astros’ infield, Royals designated hitter Billy Butler felt a sense of relief. “There it is,” he thought, the sort of reward he had spent days searching for.
The single on Thursday came during his first at-bat of the season as the team’s No. 6 hitter. After four games in that role, Butler will likely shift back to the cleanup spot for Monday’s series opener in Cleveland, manager Ned Yost said.
“I went into this season as the four-hole hitter,” Butler said after going two for four in an 8-3 loss to Minnesota on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. “That’s what they want me to be. I feel like I’ve earned that. I’ve just got to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do.”
The reason is two-fold: Butler has been five for 14 in his last four games and appears to be rounding into his usual form. Meanwhile, Salvador Perez. who replaced Butler as the No. 4 hitter, has batted just .108 in his last nine games. He has one hit in his cleanup cameo.
“Billy’s almost back to being Billy,” Yost said. “He’s freed up. He’s seeing the ball much better. He’s much more comfortable. He looks much better.”
Butler has admitted his mechanics confounded him during the first few weeks. He missed fastballs he once clobbered. He flailed at pitches he normally took. He felt out of sorts.
The pattern began to change last week, as he worked through a series of tweaks with hitting coach Pedro Grifol.
“I’m staying through the ball,” Butler said. “I’m hitting balls. The last four or five games, I’ve been hitting the ball well, squaring it up. It’s the longest time I’ve went where I couldn’t find my timing.”
Meanwhile, Perez has descended into a sizable slump of his own. Yost indicated Perez was “drifting” at the plate, with his upper body and lower half not working in synchronicity.
Perez has caught every game thus far, and Yost dislikes answering questions about Perez’s playing time. But he inserted backup catcher Brett Hayes for the final two innings on Sunday.Dyson returns Monday
After three days off for bereavement leave, outfielder Jarrod Dyson is expected to rejoin the team on Monday in Cleveland. Justin Maxwell has started the last three games in center field.
With regular center fielder Lorenzo Cain on the disabled list, Yost was noncommittal about how he will divvy up the playing time between Dyson and Maxwell.
“I don’t know,” Yost said. “We’ll play it by ear.”
To make room for Dyson on the roster, the team probably will ship either reliever Michael Mariot or Justin Marks back to Class AAA Omaha. The team has been carrying eight relievers in their bullpen since Cain landed on the disabled list.