Reserve catcher Erik Kratz made the most of his first start in a week and third as a Royal on Thursday, delivering two singles, scoring the Royals’ first run on a Jarrod Dyson sacrifice fly and starting the seventh-inning rally with another base hit.
“You’ve got to take the same approach as if you’re playing every,” Kratz said.
Manager Ned Yost singled out Kratz and Christian Colon, who got his second straight start for the Royals, this one at second base, and delivered three hits Thursday.
Kratz and Colon allowed Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to take the day off, although Perez caught the last two innings.
“Our bench has really improved,” Yost said. “(Before), so many days you didn’t want to give Sal or Omar a day off, because you really didn’t have a guy you felt confident could hold up his end of the bargain. Colon and Kratz had great days for us today.”
A good bench is the difference between an “an OK team becoming good, and a good team becoming great,” said Kratz, who was acquired in the Danny Valencia trade with the Blue Jays on July 28. “Rest at this time of year is so important. When we can give them breathers, it’s huge.”
As the season passes and the Royals remain in postseason contention, they’ll hope to find value in the ones who have been there before, guys who have participated in a pennant chase in different uniforms.
Players like second baseman Omar Infante.
“We talk about it,” Infante said. “We talked about it early in the season, what it feels like to be a playoff team.”
Infante knows, more than any other Royal. He’s appeared in 30 postseason games, playing for the Tigers’ World Series teams of 2006 and 2012 and also playing for the Braves during their 2010 playoff season.
In addition to filling a hole at second base, the Royals got a player with 110 postseason at-bats when they signed Infante as a free agent in the offeason.
No other position player among the regulars has appeared in a playoff game. Shortstop Alcides Escobar was a member of the playoff-bound Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 but didn’t appear in a game.
Raul Ibanez, James Shields and Wade Davis are the only other members of the current roster who have appeared in the postseason.
But the Royals got a whiff of a playoff race last season, closing to two games behind the second wild card spot in mid-September. They weren’t eliminated from the postseason until the season’s final week.
In winning 17 of 21 and spending most of this week in first place in the American League Central, the Royals have played like a team eager to end a long playoff drought.
Infante got the day off Thursday as the Royals wrapped up a four-game series against the A’s, but he contributed the biggest at-bat in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory. Infante sent a Scott Kazmir fastball into the left-field bullpen for a two-run home run in support of Jason Vargas’ three-hitter.
It was Infante’s sixth home run, and his 53 RBIs matched Alex Gordon for the team lead entering Thursday.
“Every player contributes,” Infante said. “That’s why we’re winning.”
Cain almost caught
The Royals’ decisive seventh inning was nearly derailed by pinch-runner Lorenzo Cain.
He ran for Kratz, who had singled and moved to third on Colon’s one-out double.
But before reliever Ryan Cook threw a pitch, the A’s attempted a pick-off play at third. Cain easily beat the throw. But he momentarily took his hand off the base and third baseman Josh Donaldson quickly applied a tag.
Third-base umpire Tom Hallion ruled safe, but Donaldson implored manager Bob Melvin to check the replay. The video showed Cain barely beat the tag.
“I thought (Donaldson’s) cleat was coming down on my hand, and I didn’t want my hand stepped on,” Cain said. “Then I realized, that was his glove.
“That would have been pretty bad if I had been out.”
Yes it would have been. Instead of having runners on second and third with one out, the Royals would have a runner at first with two outs, and maybe the five-running outburst wouldn’t have happened.
Hoz is still waiting
Royals manager Ned Yost said that first baseman Erik Hosmer won’t be cleared to swing a bat for another week while resting a hand injury.
Hosmer had an X-ray Thursday. He’s been on the DL since Aug. 2.
Zimmer set for debut
Kyle Zimmer, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, will make his season debut for Class A Idaho Falls on Sunday. Zimmer has missed all of this season due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.