Tal’s Hill is history here at Minute Maid Park, and Lorenzo Cain is delighted.
The infamous hill — which offered a steep incline up to the center-field wall, one of baseball’s stranger on-field novelties — was replaced in the offseason during a renovation that had been planned since before the 2015 season. The construction was delayed one year by the Astros’ postseason appearance in 2015, a run that was ended at the hands of the Royals in the American League Division Series. But still, the hill’s days were numbered. As the Royals opened a three-game series here on Friday, Cain said he was happy to Tal’s Hill replaced by a more conventional setup.
“I’ve definitely ran up it a few times and face-planted,” said Cain, the Royals’ center fielder. “So I’m definitely glad. I got the chance to check it out. It looks really nice, the way they changed it up a little bit.”
The renovation also led to reconfigured dimensions in center field. When the hill was in play, the center field fence sat 436 feet from home plate. It is now listed as 409 feet to center field. Minute Maid Park, one of baseball’s coziest ballparks, could favor the hitter even more.
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Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz, who coordinates the club’s outfield defense, said the hill did not necessitate any changes in positioning. But few center fielders will be sad to see it gone, he said.
“You don’t have to worry that your knees are going to be driven into your lamb chops, as soon as you hit that incline,” Kuntz said.
Mondesi experiencing ‘growing pains’, Yost says
Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi suffered through a shaky defensive performance in the season-opening series in Minnesota. He was back in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Friday, and Yost described the early issues as “growing pains."”
“He’s going through some things right now,” Yost said.
In specific, Mondesi found himself out of position and failed to cover second base on a play on Wednesday. He also bobbled a tailor-made double play ball on Thursday, which led to a Twins run in a 5-3 loss for the Royals. There was also a second potential double play that didn’t get turned on Thursday. Mondesi was a little slow on the turn, though the runner was Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, one of the fastest players in the game.
“The ground ball, the double play the other day, he was just trying to be too quick,” Yost said. “He fumbled it. He mis-covered a base one time, stuff like that. It’s growing pains for him, too, a little bit. Just getting him comfortable.”
Yost not concerned about walks
The Royals pitching staff piled up 23 walks in three losses to the Twins, a performance that Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel termed “absurd.”
The pitching staff sought to address the problem as the Royals began a three-game series in Houston. But Yost said he didn’t view the walks as a concern — yet. Twelve of the walks came courtesy of starters Danny Duffy (three), Ian Kennedy (five) and Hammel (four). Yost said he has confidence in a veteran-laded starting rotation. Unlike some young rotations from the past, the Royals’ pitchers have track records, Yost said.
“It is what it is, but I don’t see it as an issue,” Yost said. “I don’t lose sleep over our pitching staff’s ability to throw strikes like I have in the past.”