Royals manager Ned Yost gives struggling Mike Moustakas a vote of confidence

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05/02/2014 9:36 AM

05/16/2014 1:33 PM

The response from Royals manager Ned Yost was swift and protective, an optimistic appraisal of struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas. When the season began, Yost suggested an arbitrary period of 100 plate appearances was necessary before evaluating a player. Moustakas will cross that threshold this week.

Even if Moustakas’ playing time decreases in the coming weeks, Yost is still committed to him as the team’s long-term solution at the hot corner.

“Moose is third on our team in RBI and first in home runs,” Yost said before Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. “He’s a great defender at third base.”

Yost conceded, of course, the other critical statistics involving Moustakas. He entered Wednesday’s game hitting a mere .155. Of the 162 major-leaguers with at least 90 plate appearances this season, Moustakas ranks 160th in batting average. After an zero for three in Wednesday’s 4-2 win, his average descended to .149.

He also continues to flounder against left-handers. Moustakas has one hit in 11 at-bats against them. Which is why right-handed hitting backup Danny Valencia will begin to play more against southpaws. Valencia will “probably” start today against Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle.

Yost resists classifying the situation as a platoon, but his actions could dictate otherwise. “I imagine we’ll see Danny pinch-hitting a little bit more against tough left-handers,” Yost said.

During the season’s first month, Moustakas was one of the team’s few threats to hit the baseball over the fence. He swatted four of their 11 homers. But his production otherwise has been alarming. Heading into Wednesday, his .571 on-base plus slugging percentage was more than 100 points below his career average, and even 80 points below his career nadir in 2013.

And he cannot blame poor luck. Moustakas was hitting line drives only 11.4 percent of the time. In 2013, he hit line drives at an 18.8-percent clip.

In the process, team officials have lauded him for maintaining his aptitude in the field. But Moustakas has yet to prove to rival evaluators he can handle inside pitching, which is believed to be a critical flaw in his approach.

Yet the team will stick with him, even if Valencia’s playing time increases.

Cain preps for Omaha

Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (strained groin) expects to begin a rehabilitation assignment on Friday with Class AAA Omaha. He believes he will need about 20 at-bats before he is ready to be reactivated. So he could rejoin the team in either San Diego or Seattle next week.

Bueno pitches in simulated game

Lefty reliever Francisley Bueno (bruised left pinkie) pitched in a simulated game on Wednesday afternoon. He is closing in on beginning a rehab assignment soon.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Yost said. “We’ll see what the next step is.”

Yost was just as guarded about lefty Tim Collins (flexor tendon strain), who was set to make his third appearance in Class AAA Omaha on Wednesday before the Storm Chasers’ game was postponed. Collins has struck out five of the six batters he faced in two games.

“He’s throwing the ball OK,” Yost said. “He’s throwing the ball all right.”

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