April 26, 2014

Aoki still adjusting to American League pitchers

Right fielder striking out more than usual while getting used to new pitchers.

Nori Aoki produced his seventh multihit game as a Royal on Friday night, clapping a pair of singles that stoked separate late-inning rallies. But he also struck out once again, part of a mystifying early season trend.

The Royals acquired Aoki this offseason because he fit a series of criteria: He possesses on-base skills necessary to bat leadoff, the fielding acumen to fit in with baseball’s best defense and the type of speed that stresses opposing pitchers.

In two seasons with Milwaukee, after seven seasons as an All-Star in Japan, Aoki demonstrated an elite ability to make contact. The scouting report on him insisted he did not strike out.

Yet, he trails only Billy Butler for the team lead in that ignominious category. Aoki has struck out 16 times in 22 games. In 155 games with the Brewers last year, he struck out 40 times. Even in his rookie season, he only fanned 55 times.

Aoki offered a simple explanation: He is still learning the rhythms of American League pitchers, he said.

“Maybe because I’m just facing a lot of pitchers I haven’t faced before,” Aoki said through his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji. “I just feel like it takes getting used to seeing new pitchers. Seeing what they throw, how they throw it, and seeing what they’re exactly like.”

Aoki had another multihit game Saturday, going two for five in the Royals’ 3-2 loss to the Orioles in 10 innings — and he didn’t strike out.

Escobar survives scare

Shortstop Alcides Escobar was spiked by the Orioles’ Jonathan Schoop on a play in the 10th inning on Saturday. Escobar absorbed the blow on the outside of his left knee. He emerged relatively unscathed, though he was sore, and expects to play on Sunday.

The play occurred when manager Ned Yost had already emptied his bench. If Escobar had to leave the game, Yost intended to move Alex Gordon to third base, Mike Moustakas to second base and Omar Infante to shortstop.

Who was the tentative left fielder?

Reliever Michael Mariot.

Valencia at third

Mike Moustakas entered Saturday’s game batting .158 this season. Part of the reason? He had only one hit against left-handed pitchers, and is just one for 11 after an eighth-inning ground-out against southpaw Brian Matusz on Saturday.

Right-handed hitting Danny Valencia started against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen. Valencia had appeared in only four games this season, and Yost intends to use him more often.

But Yost indicated the team does not intend to pair the duo as a platoon. For the most part, Yost said, he will deploy Valencia only against tough left-handed pitchers.

“It’s a tough balancing act,” Yost said. “Because we need them both. So we do it the way we’ve been doing it. You give Danny chances. You let Danny play against left-handers, certain left-handers.

“And there will be days where there may be a tough left-hander, and we’ll pinch-hit for Moose. Those days are only when we’re behind.”

Collins still rehabbing

The Royals clocked lefty reliever Tim Collins’ fastball at 94 mph during his appearance on a rehab assignment with Class AAA Omaha on Friday. Recovering from a flexor strain in his elbow, Collins struck out all three batters he faced.

“It’s a good first step,” Yost said. “I’m not looking for him to go out and dominate the world in his first rehab outing.”

Collins will still need “at least” one more outing in the minors before he can rejoin the big-league club, Yost said.

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