A hint of frustration appeared in the waning moments of the Royals’ 3-1 loss to the Mariners, as designated hitter Billy Butler and first-base coach Rusty Kuntz jawed at each other after a close play at the bag.
“He’s best the outfield guy, best base-running guy I’ve ever been around,” Butler said. “So if he’s yelling at you, you probably did something wrong. I was just lucky enough not to be that wrong.”
The play came with two outs in the ninth. Butler roped a deep drive to left off closer Fernando Rodney. It was Butler’s second hit of the game, one of only four recorded by the team all night. Butler made a wide turn at first, thinking a double was possible. But he hit the brakes and loped back to first.
With his back turned, the baseball flew from the outfield into the glove of Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano. Kuntz was “definitely screaming” for Butler to hurry up, manager Ned Yost said. Butler indicated he could not hear. He beat the throw, but just barely.
First Kuntz looked pained. Then he looked furious. He informed Butler how embarrassing it would be for a game to end in that fashion. As expletives flew, Butler retorted that he had not, in fact, been picked off, and did not need to be scolded.
It was a mistake, Butler said afterward. He regretted responding in that fashion.
“He’s that type of passionate guy, just like I am when I’m playing,” Butler said. “It was one of those things where he was getting after me. And I reacted. It should never happen. If I have something to say, I should say it (in the clubhouse).
“That’s on me, that one. That can’t happen. I got caught up in the moment. Got a lot of adrenaline going.”Rest expected for Perez
Catcher Salvador Perez turned 24 on Saturday. His present arrives on Sunday: An expected day off. He will “probably” not play in Sunday’s series finale, Yost said.
Perez has played in 34 of the team’s 36 games this season. He remained in the lineup for the first six days of this road trip despite a nagging injury to his left calf. Perez fouled a pitch off himself last week against the Tigers. He missed one game, but is still sporting “a real big bruise on it,” Yost said.
“All that blood is draining down to his ankle,” Yost said. “It’s still sore.”
The effect is evident when Perez runs. Never a speedster, his gait has been reduced to a trot this past week. Perez insists he feels fine, even if he sports a sizable ice pack on his leg after games.
The injury appears to only affect him when he runs, Yost said. Perez entered Saturday’s game ranked second on the team with a .425 slugging percentage. He had 12 doubles, which trailed Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, who each had 13.
But Yost still keeps an eye on Perez.
“The more running he does, the worse it hurts,” Yost said. “He starts off the day feeling pretty good. But at the end of the day, it’s sore. But it’s playable.”Escobar a savvy stealer
When he stands at first base, waiting for an opportunity to run, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar waits for the opposing pitcher to forget about him. All it takes, he said, is for the pitcher to fall behind.
“In the hitter’s count, the pitcher, he’s not thinking about a slide step,” Escobar said before Saturday’s game at Safeco Field. “He’s just thinking about a strike.”
In that moment, Escobar often strikes. He is an underrated performer on the bases, relying on a combination of above-average speed, finely honed instincts and the requisite courage necessary to take chances.
During an otherwise dreadful offensive campaign in 2013, Escobar stole 22 bases and was not caught once. He swiped 35 out of 40 attempts in 2012. On Friday night, he stole his team-high 11th base. He entered Saturday’s game with six more than Jarrod Dyson, the team’s famed speed demon.
Escobar is not nearly as fast. But he makes the most of his opportunities, Yost said.
“He can read the pitcher,” Yost said. “He knows when to go. He’s got great instincts.”
One reason for Escobar’s increased output on the bases? He’s reaching first base more than ever. He began Saturday’s game with a career-best .333 on-base percentage, up from .259 in 2013.