Royals walking a fine line with Mike Moustakas

05/21/2014 10:47 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Like most of us, when Royals manager Ned Yost speaks, he’s prone to some shorthand and sharp change of direction and a half-sentence here or there.

Unlike most of us, some of his morsels get snared as sound bites and get paraded around.

That’s how it was with his response Tuesday to questions about the implications of deviating from the platoon system at third base by starting right-handed hitting Danny Valencia in place of left-handed hitting Mike Moustakas against a right-handed pitcher.

“I don’t have a plan,” Yost said then.

Pounce if you must, but Yost didn’t really mean he doesn’t have a plan.

It’s just that it’s awkward for him to say this bluntly at such a delicate time for Moustakas, whose psyche the Royals surely want to protect during a phase in which he often appears lost at the plate.

Yost doesn’t plan to give up on Moustakas, but then there is this:

“Let (Valencia) play a couple days in a row,” Yost said, “and see what develops.”

The plan means if Valencia continues to hit, especially against right-handers, it’s going to be difficult to justify not staying with him for the immediate future.

This isn’t the same as the dramatic remedial step of sending Moustakas to Class AAA Omaha, of course.

But it does represent a fundamental change in how the Royals are handling the confounding Moustakas, treasured as the overall No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft but hitting .152 in 2014 and .236 in 1,498 big-league at-bats.

While they still are committed to cultivating Moustakas’ long-term potential and salvaging the short-term with him this season, the burden of proof for the moment seems to have shifted to Moustakas to earn his way back.

The Royals no longer are locked into their default position of waiting and hoping he will emerge and assuming that even a thin shadow of his promise is the best available option.

Now they’re on to exploring the immediate alternatives, starting with Valencia, who began the season strictly as a reserve, but for the last month has been sharing duties with Moustakas and effectively is auditioning for the job.

And auditioning well so far.

After going two for three with two RBIs on Tuesday, Valencia, in a game he would have started Wednesday, anyway, in the platoon format, went one for three with an RBI in the Royals’ 3-1 win over Chicago.

At the simplest measurement of difference in that that means, that left him with 16 hits in 52 at-bats compared to Moustakas’ 19 in 125.

For at least 10 days and perhaps longer, the Royals have been considering whether the best way to rehabilitate and revitalize him might be to send him to Omaha for a stint.

The Royals still are mulling that, and, really, this vague status can only be a way-station for Moustakas.

One way or another, the status quo is untenable.

Yet it’s a dilemma for the Royals with moving parts, including a pendulum.

Only last Wednesday against Colorado, Moustakas uncorked a three-run double that was the essential hit in the Royals’ 3-2 win.

Maybe that meant he had found something, under duress, even.

At least it appeared to be a compelling possibility that could make you accentuate his attributes: Yes, he was in a funk, but he’s a truly fine fielder who was among the RBI leaders on a team that often struggles to score.

But instead of that game being a catalyst, instead of that at-bat being a spark, it seems the moment was a mirage.

Moustakas had gone one for 13 since then, and his last two at-bats were more disconcerting than his game against Colorado was encouraging.

On both his strikeout in his last appearance Monday against Chicago and his meek pop-up while pinch-hitting with runners on first and third Tuesday, Moustakas looked off-kilter.

Sad and confusing as it is for all concerned, something is just wrong here.

And after trying about every tweak or remedy they can conjure, the Royals are left with this as they try to get Moustakas going in his new role:

“Same thing we do every day,” Yost said. “He’s the first one in the clubhouse, in the cage with (hitting coach Pedro Grifol), and they’ve got their drills that they work on tirelessly. He takes more swings than anybody on this team.”

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

That contradicts the notion that if you stay with something hard enough you will prevail, like the legend of the stonecutter hammering at a rock with no apparent result … but knowing that when it ultimately cracks each strike did it, not just the last.

But knowing the difference is crucial for the Royals.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow on Twitter.com/vgregorian

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