Opinion

Nori Aoki explains why he wore jersey of Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum

Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki (23) ran down an out on the Tigers' Rajai Davis during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki (23) ran down an out on the Tigers' Rajai Davis during Friday's baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

A strange thing happened in the top of the fifth inning on Saturday. Royals outfielder Nori Aoki slipped into the batting cage before the frame began because he needed to switch undershirts. He took off his No. 23 jersey and left it nearby.

Yet when he retook the field, he had someone ended up wearing a No. 21 jersey – one belonging to hitting coach Dale Sveum.

"Did you see?" Aoki said through his translator, Kosuke Inaji. He wore a sheepish grin.

A few folks on Twitter were kind enough to present visual evidence. For example:

So, what happened?

"I took my uniform off," Aoki said. "I put it down. I thought I put my uniform down where it was. It might have been next to Dale’s. Someone might have switched it out and played a prank on me. I’m not really sure. But I ended up wearing that jersey."

Inaji alerted him to the mix-up after the Royals came back from the field.

So there is that.

In a more pertinent matter, The Star interviewed Aoki about his decision to bunt on his own in the first inning, and again, this time on a call from the dugout, in the third inning. It was a revealing conversation about Aoki, his perceived role with the team and their offensive philosophy.

Before we begin, understand that neither bunt led to the Royals scoring a run. Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon both made outs both times, and neither engaged in a particularly competitive at-bat. According to FanGraphs’ win probability added, both bunts negatively affected the Royals.

Now, here is Aoki’s perspective on the matter.

You’ve been swinging the bat so well (.813 batting average in the previous four games). What was your thought process in giving yourself up in that spot?

"In a game like this today, it was important to score a run first. The type of hitter I am, I need to get the guy over, no matter what. I could have hit the ball to the right side of the infield or bunted. The higher chance of me getting the runner over, either way, was getting the bunt down there.

"If I hit the ball hard to the right side, I might not even get the guy over. There might be a runner on second, one out. I’m also hitting second, or leadoff. If I was the cleanup hitter, then it would be a different situation. But the type of hitter I am, and what’s expected of me, I need to get the guy over. In the past, too, people have told me, in that situation I need to get the guy over no matter what.”

Does how you’re swinging at the time change your approach at all?

"Our team is built around playing tight, close games. Being able to bring us into situations where we can win those games is really important. So that’s why I did that. And especially the way we lost the game yesterday, with them scoring a lot of runs, it was important for us to get that first run.

"You can probably tell, too, just watching us play. We’re always playing for one run. We’re playing for that run, as opposed to trying to get two or three. So it’s important to be able to create situations where a sac fly could bring a run in. That was what I was thinking."

So you’re trying to fit your game into the style of the team’s play.

"I’m the type of hitter that people expect me to be able to bunt, be able to hit and run. There was a hit and run, too. That’s my style of play. I feel that, let’s say if I swung there and I hit a line drive, or I don’t get the guy over. I feel that this season, there’s been more instances or situations where we don’t score a run there. As opposed to a guy on third, with one out."

And the second bunt came from the bench?

"No out, second and first, I can kind of went up expecting a sign for the bunt. And there was. It’s important to be able to get a hit. But also, you have to think for the team, and think what’s best for the situation right now."

FROM THE STAR

A controversial call, a pair of silly bunts and yet another loss to Detroit. The game story.

Blair Kerkhoff provides an in-depth breakdown of the Salvador Perez play.

Vahe Gregorian wrote a column on the pain caused by Saturday’s loss.

THE ROYALS’ PLAYOFF PERCENTAGE (ACCORDING TO BASEBALL PROSPECTUS)

56.2 percent.

THE STANDINGS IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

KC trails Detroit by 2 ½ games.

THE STANDINGS IN THE WILD CARD RACE

KC leads Seattle by ½ game for the second spot.

HERE IS SOME ROCK MUSIC

"Just Can’t Win" by Lee Fields and The Expressions.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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