Eight games into his “new season,” a euphemism crafted by the Royals after a mid-May demotion, the evidence for Mike Moustakas’ improvement cannot be found in his statistics. He hit .152 before his departure for Class AAA Omaha; he has hit .148 since returning, with two extra-base hits.
Yet, Moustakas remains upbeat in the clubhouse and confident at the plate, a combination that team officials believe he lost amid the misery of his first 40 games.
“Going down to (the minors) made me realize how much I love being in the big leagues,” Moustakas said. “And how much fun being in the big leagues is.”
Manager Ned Yost praised Moustakas for a “much greater attitude,” even as Moustakas’ production has yet to appear.
“All the things that used to affect him before he left? Not affecting him now,” Yost said. “He’d hit a ball hard, make an out, and it would be like the world is coming to an end. Now he’s back in the dugout, by the time he hits that step, he’s rooting for the next guy.
“If he has a bad at-bat and dribbles a ball, by the time he hits that step, he’s back in the dugout, rooting for the next guy. He’s playing hard. And his attitude’s great.”
The Royals, of course, would prefer that Moustakas spend more time on the base paths rather than rooting for his teammates from the sidelines. But they will settle for incremental improvements — and they lack a suitable replacement.
Moustakas stood inside the Royals’ clubhouse on Monday afternoon, a few hours before the team’s series finale against the Yankees was postponed because of rain. That game will be made up Aug. 25. In the interim, Moustakas figures to start again on Tuesday when the Indians come to Kauffman Stadium.
Yost had installed Moustakas into the starting lineup at third base for Monday, as he has every day since Danny Valencia landed on the disabled list on June 1 and accelerated Moustakas’ return from Omaha.
Because of a sprained hand, which he re-aggravated on May 31 in Toronto, Valencia will not be eligible to return to action until next Monday.
Yost is unsure if Valencia will be able to join the club at that point. Valencia swung a bat for the first time in days on Monday. He took 50 hacks off a tee and reported his hand felt “a lot better.”
But Yost declined to speculate on how he would divvy up the playing time at third base.
A return to a platoon between Moustakas and Valencia two appears likely. But the team still hopes Moustakas can prove himself worthy of a starting role.
He took a step in the right direction with an RBI single in Sunday’s victory.
Despite his lackluster hitting since returning, Moustakas does not have to look far for motivation.
“Just going down there rejuvenated everything for me,” Moustakas said. “I had fun, relaxed. I told myself when I was down there, when I get back up here, I’m going to have that same attitude and that same mind-set. I’ve had it. It’s been a blast.”