Ball Star

Andy McCullough blogs about the Royals and baseball

Mike Moustakas surging for Royals, even without opposite-field hits

07/07/2014 9:10 AM

07/07/2014 10:43 AM

On Friday night, Mike Moustakas completed an act he has only achieved a handful of times this season: He recorded a base hit to left field.

The setting was the ninth inning. Indians closer John Axford fired a fastball at 96 mph around Moustakas’ waist and over the heart of the plate.

“I was looking for a fastball,” Moustakas said. “I kind of caught it a little late, and just shot it down the third-base line. Not too much there.”

It was, in essence, something of an accident. Moustakas was late on a fastball, but he made contact and was rewarded with a hit. He has been hitting much better of late, with a .250 batting average and a .776 on-base-plus-slugging percentage since returning from Class AAA Omaha on June 1.

He received his good fortune on Friday due to the positioning of the Cleveland defense. Moustakas often confronts a dramatic shift of defenders to the right side of the infield. His attempts to combat the shift by slapping the ball the other way are generally unsuccessful.

You can see the lack of results in this spray chart, courtesy of FanGraphs.

This should not be surprising. Moustakas has always favored pulling the ball into right field. His power resides there. He hooked his 10th home run of the season down the right-field pole on Sunday.

Yet the opportunity for hits still lurks on the left side. The field is often vacated. Shortly after he took over as hitting coach, Dale Sveum explained to manager Ned Yost why Moustakas struggled with this aspect of hitting.

“He’s a left-handed hitter that’s a right-handed thrower,” Yost said. “So his top hand is not as strong as if he was a right-handed hitter. His dominant hand is his bottom hand. So when you get pitches out there, your top hand has to be able to — boom — hit it that way.

“His dominant hand is his bottom hand. So it tends to drop the head of the bat. Which results in a lot of pop-ups.”

Yost insisted Moustakas continues to labor over improving this skill. But his future resides in powering the ball to right, not slapping it to left.

MATCHUPS AT TROPICANA FIELD

The headline matchup of this series occurs on the first night. James Shields returns to pitch in the park he called home from 2006 to 2012. He will face Jake Odorizzi, who was part of the package the Royals sent to Tampa Bay to acquire Shields.

Monday, 6:10 p.m.: James Shields (8-4, 3.93 ERA) vs. Jake Odorizzi (4-7, 4.14 ERA).

Tuesday, 6:10 p.m.: Jason Vargas (8-3, 3.32 ERA) vs. Erik Bedard (4-6, 4.82 ERA).

Wednesday, 6:10 p.m.: Yordano Ventura (6-7, 3.02 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (4-6, 4.28 ERA).

FROM THE STAR

Corey Kluber crushed the Royals on Sunday. The offense offered little resistance.

Another day, another middle reliever. This one was Scott Downs, the 38-year-old lefty. Plus, notes on Nori Aoki, Pedro Ciriaco and Eric Hosmer.

A familiar trio will represent the Royals at the All Star Game. Alex Gordon, Greg Holland and Salvador Perez are headed back, each for the second time in a row.

THE ROYALS’ PLAYOFF PERCENTAGE (ACCORDING TO BASEBALL PROSPECTUS)

21. 8 percent.

HERE IS SOME ROCK MUSIC

“Air Bud” by Kurt Vile.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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