Royals’ Yost pondering lineup changes

Are changes coming to the Royals’ lineup?

Manager Ned Yost hinted as much prior to Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

Possibilities include shifting left fielder Alex Gordon from first to third in the lineup and increased playing time for outfielder Jarrod Dyson and infielder Elliot Johnson.

“I’m thinking about, maybe, putting Alex back in the three,” Yost acknowledged. “I’m just trying to decide what benefits us the best. I’ve got like nine different scenarios I’m looking at.

“I’m not big on changing the lineup from day to day. You’ve got to have some movable parts, but the least amount of movable parts, the better for me.”

Gordon remained in the leadoff role Wednesday, but Dyson started in center field, which moved Lorenzo Cain to right field in place of slumping Jeff Francoeur. Johnson started again at second base over Chris Getz.

Early-season numbers suggest the Royals would benefit by dropping Gordon to an RBI spot in the lineup. He is batting .180 (nine for 50) when leading off an inning but .490 (24 for 49) with runners on base.

Yost said he was still mulling possible replacements atop the lineup with Dyson, Cain and Alcides Escobar among the possibilities.

“Escobar led off all winter in Venezuela and did really well,” Yost said. “Put him there and Cain in the two? I don’t know. I’m thinking it through. I don’t want to do anything rash.”

Yost said he still views Billy Butler, who has batted third this season, as a better fit in the cleanup role. Shifting Gordon to third would permit Butler to return to fourth.

“I still believe when it all is said and done that (Eric) Hosmer is going to be a three hitter,” Yost said, “and that Moose (Mike Moustakas) is going to be a four or five hitter.

“It just takes time in the big leagues to get yourself established. You’re still projecting younger players who you think are going to be really productive — Sal (Perez), Moose, Hos and Cain. It just takes time.

“My son, Andrew, is a mechanic. He needs two years to take a bunch of classes to become a master mechanic. It’s the same. These kids need experience before they get there.

“That’s true for the majority of them. You’ve got a few that step up immediately — (Ryan) Braun, (Mike) Trout and (Bryce) Harper. But there are very few of those.”

Run-production numbers

So how much are the Royals really struggling to score? Overall, it’s probably not as bad as it seems after a recent stretch in which they scored three runs or fewer in six of 10 games.

The Royals entered Wednesday averaging 4.31 runs a game, which ranked seventh among the American League’s 15 clubs. They ranked 12th in total runs, but that’s primarily due to playing fewer games because of rainouts.

“It always seems like your offense is struggling,” Yost said. “Almost everybody’s offense is down right now. I’ve got a lot of confidence in this offense. You just have to wait it out.”

It’s worth noting, perhaps, that two AL Central opponents — Detroit and Cleveland — ranked first and third at 5.47 and 5.00. Minnesota ranked 11th at 4.21 and Chicago was last at 3.35.

Guthrie’s return

Jeremy Guthrie’s career resume shows more than one-third of his career appearances (80 of 216) took place at Camden Yards. But the series finale Thursday night will mark his first outing as an opposing pitcher.

Will it seem strange?

“Not too much,” he said. “I think enough time has passed (since a Feb. 6, 2012 trade sent him from the Orioles to Colorado). There was time last year to say hello and congratulate them on the way they’re playing.

“Now, it feels more like I’ll just be going out there and doing what we do every time.”

Guthrie, 34, spent five years with the Orioles from 2007-11. He was 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA for a club that averaged 95 losses a season.

“I look back on it very fondly,” he said. “Obviously, I pitched well at times and not well at other times. We struggled as a team, but the last couple of months in 2011, everyone saw the potential that the team had.

“The lineup started to swing it, and we started to play good baseball.”

The Royals acquired Guthrie in a July 20, 2012 trade from Colorado for Jonathan Sanchez, who was released Wednesday by Pittsburgh. Guthrie is 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 20 starts since joining the Royals.

Protective head gear

When Toronto pitcher J.A. Happ was struck in the head Tuesday by a batted ball, the debate started again: Should pitchers be required to wear protective head gear?

Luke Hochevar has personal experience in the matter; he was hit in the temple by a line drive while in college. Hochevar’s eight-week recovery included wearing a protective skull cap while practicing.

“It’s was like a quarter-of-an-inch thick and it goes over your head,” he said. “I’ve still got one. It came down over the sides of my temple, and I wore my hat over it.”

Hochevar discarded the protective cap when he returned to game action.

“I could have pitched in it,” he said, “but I don’t know that there’s anything that could fully protect you.

“You see hitters when a ball gets away from a pitcher. They’re in a good, solid helmet and still, sometimes, the lights go out.”

Minor details

Two outfield prospects to keep an eye on:

Omaha’s David Lough, 27, is making a push for promotion with a 15-game hitting streak entering Wednesday’s rain-delayed series opener at Reno. His average is up to .363. He also had a .411 on-base percentage and a .526 slugging percentage.

Hi-A Wilmington’s Jorge Bonifacio, one of the organization’s top hopes, is closing in on .300 (actually .297) after going three for three in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Potomac. Bonifacio, 19, is seven for 16 in his last four games.

Honorary bat girl

Kelly VanBuskirk of Broken Arrow, Okla., will serve as the Royals’ honorary bat girl for Sunday’s game against the Yankees as part of baseball’s annual Mother’s Day program that highlights the fight against breast cancer.

VanBuskirk is a survivor of breast-cancer surgery who endured a double mastectomy and hysterectomy, six months of chemotherapy and more surgeries.

“I might have lost parts of me,” she said, “but I did not lose this fight. Today, I am a better me, a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend. Today, I am a survivor.”

Major League Baseball solicited inspirational stories related to breast cancer and asked participants to explain why they should represent their favorite team.

The 30 team winners were selected through online balloting and a guest judging panel that included Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. VanBuskirk and other winners will take part in pregame activities.

Looking back

It was six years ago Thursday — May 9, 2007 — that Mike Sweeney hit his 194th career homer and moved into second place on the Royals’ all-time list.

Sweeney’s homer was a two-out drive in the eighth inning against Justin Duchscherer that provided the winning run in a 3-2 victory over Oakland at Kauffman Stadium.

The blast moved Sweeney past Amos Otis on the club’s career chart. Otis hit 193 homers for the Royals from 1970-83. Sweeney finished with 197 homers as a Royal, which remains second to George Brett’s 317.

Sweeney played three more years after leaving the Royals following the 2007 season. He finished his 16-year career with 215 homers.

Related stories from Kansas City Star