An unfamiliar sight greeted Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas in the first game of this season. In his second at-bat, the Tigers positioned themselves in a dramatic shift along the right side of the infield.
This alignment often greets left-handed pull hitters like Boston designated hitter David Ortiz or Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard. For Moustakas, it was a first. He saw it again in Detroit, and against the White Sox here at Kauffman Stadium.
"This is new," Moustakas said on Sunday morning. "But if that’s what they’re going to do, I’m going to get my hits to the left side of the field. If you drop down a bunt, start hitting a ball over at the shortstop, they’re not going to be able to do that anymore."
For now, Moustakas has yet to break through. He is hitless in 15 at-bats. He did work an RBI walk in Saturday’s victory.
Manager Ned Yost still elected to give Moustakas the day off on Sunday. Chicago started southpaw terror Chris Sale. The Royals employ right-handed-hitting backup Danny Valencia, whose primary skill is hitting left-handed pitching. So the swap made sense.
But Yost hinted the mental break would be worthwhile for Moustakas. The team does not want his early-season slump to snowball.
"He’s pressing a little bit," Yost said. "But not nearly as much as he did last year. He’s going to be OK. And that’s just signs of maturity."
In turn, Moustakas is preparing to bunt more. He understands if he demonstrates the ability to hit the ball the other way, the shift will disappear. The bunt is one tool at his disposal.
"I haven’t done it much in my career," Moustakas said. "But it’s not that difficult. Because the shortstop’s over on the other side of second, and the third baseman’s at shortstop. So I just have to bunt it past the pitcher. I don’t have to be fine with it."
Yost likes to give a player 100 at-bats before making a determination about his playing time. The team appreciates Moustakas’ ability to work the count thus far. And Moustakas sounded calm when discussing the early slump.
"It’s 15 at-bats," Moustakas said. "Over the course of 600 at-bats, you’re going to go 0-for-15, 0-for-whatever. I mean, I didn’t expect it to happen right out of the gate. But that’s something that is going to happen. It’s happening right now."
Good to get it out of the way, at least?
"Exactly," he said. "And we’ll be good going forward."
A couple other, bullpen-related notes:
1. Relievers Aaron Crow and Wade Davis were not available Sunday. Yost was unsure if closer Greg Holland could go.
"I’m a little limited today," Yost said.
Yost also revealed part of his strategy from Saturday’s victory. Davis blew a two-run lead in the eighth. But Yost only intended to remove him from the game if he blew the lead.
As Davis pitched, Yordano Ventura threw a side session inside the bullpen. Yost never considered using him in the game, at that point. Yost wanted to ride Davis.
"Your eighth-inning guy is like your closer," Yost said. "You put him out there, you’ve got to give him wiggle room to do their job. But when Ventura was throwing, at least someone was up. So the 25 fans that sit behind the dugout that scream at me all the time ‘Get somebody up!’ – I didn’t have to hear them."
2. Reliever Louis Coleman (bruised middle finger) came through his appearance in a simulated game on Saturday without trouble. His next stop could be an inning or two on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment. Coleman can come off the disabled list on April 8.