Royals manager Ned Yost called it a puzzle.
With 64 players in Royals’ spring-training camp, Yost takes one day each week and sits down with coaches Don Wakamatsu and Pedro Grifol. The Royals’ brain trust crafts a plan for playing time. That session takes about two hours.
A bulletin board behind Yost’s desk in his office at the Royals’ spring-training complex has a schedule for playing time for many of the team members.
“It’s tougher in the beginning, because you want to make sure all the young guys are getting in and getting their at-bats,” Yost said. “The first part of spring training is where that happens for the young guys, and then the back end of spring training is for the big guys where they start extending out.”
That schedule is not rigid.
For example, Alex Gordon sat out games on Friday and Saturday. That wasn’t part of the plan. He was going to be the designated hitter Saturday but instead sat after playing well Wednesday and Thursday.
“He played two games, got four hits (on Wednesday), two hits (Thursday), well, he doesn’t need to DH,” Yost said. “It’s all scheduled out to get them systematically ready for opening day, but start them slow.”
The pitchers also ease into action. Yost said the first off day after games have started in Arizona is important. That is March 21.
“I generally kind of look at the off day as when we really start bearing down on guys,” Yost said. “I’m letting them get through their work. Let them get their innings done, letting them get their timing down, letting them get their tempo down. I’m watching pure stuff on the sides and in live batting practice.”
Yost, who said the first round of camp cuts should come in a few days, said the staff also takes into consideration the conditions in Arizona.
“The infield is rock hard,” Yost said. “The sun just bakes it to death. It’s like playing on asphalt. The wind’s blowing, the air is light. The ball carries. There is a lot you have to filter through before you make your judgments.”
Sunday’s game was only the 14th of the Cactus League schedule. The Royals have only five victories, but that doesn’t mean much.
“You’ve got to be really guarded early in spring training not to get too excited about a young guy’s performance and not get too bummed out by an old guy’s performance,” Yost said. “That’ll fool you.”
Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu brought the lineup card out before Sunday’s game. The Indians chose a minor-league shortstop to carry their card: Luke Wakamatsu. It was a cool moment for both father and son.
Luke Wakamatsu batted in the ninth inning of the Indians’ 9-4 victory and grounded out to first baseman Balbino Fuenmayor.
“Getting to see Wak’s kid play was fun,” Yost said. “That was cool.”
In the eighth, Bradley Zimmer batted for Cleveland. He is the brother of Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer. An inning later, Bradley Zimmer’s infield single with the bases loaded scored a run.