For a moment on Monday morning, Brandon Moss crouched into a faux batting stance in front of his locker and demonstrated the change. He pretended to grip a bat. He tucked his head downward.
All spring, he said, his timing had been off. He was late on pitches. He rarely found hard contact. The problem stemmed from something simple: The placement of his head.
“All spring, I hadn’t really barreled anything,” said Moss, the Royals’ designated hitter. “I had gotten some hard hits. But I was late a lot.”
So on a recent morning, Moss went to work with hitting coach Dale Sveum, looking for a solution. In Moss’ words, his head was flying back and upward during his swing, which caused him to swing uphill. He focused on pushing his head down toward the ball.
“[It was about] having that forward momentum to really drive the ball,” he said.
The tweak was simple — so simple that Moss required a demo to fully explain it. But as the Royals prepared to break camp and fly to Dallas on Wednesday night following their Cactus League finale, the adjustment appears to have paid dividends. After a sluggish start in his first camp with the Royals, Moss entered Wednesday with three homers in his last three games. After finishing 2 for 3 on Tuesday in a 7-4 victory against the White Sox, Moss had six hits in his last 10 at-bats, including a mammoth blast that cleared a large pavilion tent beyond the wall in right-center field.
“It was really small,” Moss said. “But there’s a lot of little fine-tuning things you got to do in spring. You work on something, and then inevitably when you work on something, sometimes you forget little keys here and there.”
Moss, 33, is batting .302 (16 for 53) with four homers, two doubles and six walks this spring, his first since signing a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason. But entering his 11th major-league season, he sees little value in spring training numbers. The game is not the same, he said. The environment has little intensity. Opposing pitchers can spend their outings working on off-speed pitches. The games are littered with minor-leaguers.
“I don’t pay attention to it too much,” he said. “Because you don’t get pitched the same way. You don’t face pitchers that you would normally face. Spring training is … I’ve never really paid too much attention to it.”
In 2015, Moss said, he had his best spring training performance as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He mashed all month. He hit homers all over the Cactus League. None of it translated to the regular season. Moss batted .217 in 88 games before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I was crushing the ball,” Moss said. “All of a sudden, the season came, and I was way out front of everything, because you had that extra aggression. It just doesn’t translate. I wish it had.”
Still, Moss appeared more comfortable at the plate in recent days, which perhaps is a positive sign. He is slated to begin the season as the Royals’ starting designated hitter. He could also draw additional starts in the outfield after the injury to right fielder Jorge Soler, who is expected to begin the year on the 10-day disabled list.
On most days, the left-handed hitting Moss will likely hit sixth in the lineup, behind catcher Salvador Perez. Left fielder Alex Gordon is the favorite to begin the season in the leadoff spot. Third baseman Mike Moustakas will hit second. Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer will bat third and fourth, respectively.
The order will settle itself in the coming days. For now, Moss will attempt to ride his mini hot streak into the regular season. For three days, he peppered Arizona with homers. For the Royals, it was a pleasant development. But Moss would prefer to wait. The regular season, he said, is the real judge.
“In spring, I’ve always felt like it’s a good idea to keep your effort level down,” Moss said. “If you’re hitting singles up the middle in spring training, that’s great. Because singles up the middle will translate once you start swinging a little harder naturally from aggression. You’ll start pulling the ball and putting it in the air.”