Manager Ned Yost made himself look brilliant Thursday as his team struck for three home runs — precisely what he was looking for — after shifting his batting order.
Leadoff hitter Alex Gordon moved to third in the order while Alcides Escobar replaced Gordon atop the lineup. Lorenzo Cain shifted from fifth to Escobar’s old spot at No. 2. Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer each dropped one spot to fourth and fifth.
Before the game, Yost cited one overriding reason for the moves.
“The most important two spots we have in the lineup right now should be manned by Gordy and Billy,” he said. “That’s three and four. Everything else is interchangeable depending on who’s hot and the match-ups.”
The need for production from the fourth spot in the lineup was reaching critical mass after 30 games. The Royals, prior to the moves, were the only team in either league without a homer from their cleanup hitter.
The Royals’ No. 4 hitters also ranked last in RBIs (seven), extra-base hits (six) and slugging percentage (.277). They ranked 29th among 30 teams with a .271 on-base percentage. The Angels were last at .258.
Butler spent much of the last year batting cleanup before shifting this season to No. 3. The Royals used three players at No. 4 in their first 30 games: Hosmer (16), Salvy Perez (eight) and Mike Moustakas (six).
While Butler didn’t homer Thursday, both Hosmer and Moustakas did.
Gordon had started all 30 previous games this season at leadoff but spent the closing weeks last season at No. 3 for much the same reason that Yost made this switch — disappointing production from other players.
Gordon said, “It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”
Escobar had batted first just twice in 343 previous games with the Royals and not since May 18, 2012, against Arizona. He shifted last July to the No. 2 slot and remained there until Thursday.
“We wanted to give Esky a shot at the one,” Yost said. “He was successful at it in winter ball. So he’s got some experience with it. It makes sense. He’s a kid who can bunt and steal bases.”
Escobar said he prefers to bat second but had no problem with the switch.
“You just continue to play the game and do what you do every day,” he said. “Honestly, I like No. 2 better because I’ve hit No. 2 all of the time. Now, this will be a little different.
“I did it in Venezuela in winter ball. I can do it. I’ve done it before, so let’s do it. Let’s see what happens.”
Alas, he went hitless, but he figures to get a lot more chances.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur and second baseman Chris Getz returned Thursday to the lineup, but both likely need to break extended slumps — and soon — to hold onto regular roles.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Yost admitted, “and they will. Again, you can’t make (quick moves). Offenses fluctuate. They always have, and they always will — for every team. Guys fluctuate, and you just ride it out.”
Yost said one key in the new-look lineup is it continues to separate the club’s “left-handed damage hitters.” Gordon is batting third with Hosmer batting fifth and Moustakas batting seventh.
“That makes it a tougher decision on when (opposing teams) bring a (lefty reliever) in and how long they leave him in,” Yost said.
Yost also said he expects to use the new lineup for an extended period.
“It needs to settle in,” he said. “You never say never, but I don’t anticipate this being a two-day lineup. That’s why it takes me a little bit longer to make a change. I want to make sure it’s right. …
“But there are some interchangeable (parts).”
While Thursday’s revamped lineup marks an attempt to juice what, generally, has been a disappointing attack, the Royals continue to lead the American League in batting average with runners in scoring position.
The Royals entered Thursday’s game with a .307 average with RISP (75 for 244). Three big reasons: Gordon at .483 (11 for 29), Cain at .439 (13 for 30) and Escobar at .393 (11 for 28).
Tampa Bay ranked second among AL teams at .295 (76 for 258).
The catering folks need two cakes Friday to mark the birthdays for the Royals’ catching tandem: starter Salvy Perez turns 23, while backup George Kottaras reaches 30.
Perez was born and still makes his offseason home in Valencia, Venezuela. Kottaras was born in Scarbourough, Ontario, but spends the offseason in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The quick weekend homestand, which opens Friday and consists solely of a three-game series against the Yankees, includes a notable promotion for each game.
Friday’s opener will include postgame fireworks. This used to be an every-Friday staple, but now it’s only done occasionally.
The first 10,000 fans through the gates Saturday night receive a free MLB Network drawstring bag. The first 10,000 women for Sunday afternoon’s finale get a free Royals pashmina scarf.
The Royals unclogged their Class AAA Omaha infield by trading third baseman Brandon Wood to Baltimore for cash considerations. Wood will report to Class AAA Norfolk.
Wood, 28, was batting .264 with two homers and seven RBIs in 16 games for the Storm Chasers prior to the deal. The Royals signed him on Nov. 19, 2012, to a minor-league deal.
The move opens regular infield spots for Johnny Giavotella, Christian Colon and Irving Falu with Anthony Seratelli as a utility backup.
The Royals also released two minor-league right-handed pitchers: Cole White from Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Jorge Soto from short-season Burlington.
White, 25, was a sixth-round pick in 2009. He was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven games for the Naturals. Soto, 21, was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 but hasn’t pitched since 2011.
Lo-A Lexington right-hander Cory Hall was selected as the Canadian Baseball Network Player of the Week after gaining two relief victories and lowering his ERA to 1.59.
Hall, 24, is in his third year with the organization after signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2011. He played collegiately at Santa Clara, where he was an All-West Coast Conference selection as a senior.
The CBN recognizes one player each week among the 61 Canadians in the minors. Hall was born and still resides in Regina, Saskatchewan.
It was eight years ago Friday — May 10, 2005 — that Tony Pena resigned suddenly as Royals manager following a 3-1 loss in Toronto.
The Royals were 8-25 at the time. Bench coach Bob Schaefer replaced Pena on an interim basis and guided the club to a 5-12 record before Buddy Bell took control May 30 as the permanent replacement.
Bell’s tenure began with a three-game sweep over the Yankees but later included a 19-game losing streak. The 2005 Royals finished with the worst record in franchise history at 56-106.