At some point during his first 10 seasons, Brandon Moss learned that no critic could be as harsh as he was on himself. So as the hitless days piled up and an early-season slump deepened, he could not take solace in a solid at-bat or a decent approach. Those moments are nice, he says. He would rather help his team with a higher batting average or a few more extra-base hits.
“At the end of the day, the numbers tell the truth,” Moss said, standing inside the Royals’ clubhouse on Friday afternoon. “And they say I’m not getting the job done. And that’s what’s frustrating.”
For Moss, the Royals’ new designated hitter, the numbers said he was 1 for 23 entering a series opener against the Los Angeles Angeles at Kauffman Stadium. They said he had struck out 12 times in 29 plate appearances. They said his strikeout rate (41.4 percent) ranked second in baseball behind Minnesota’s Byron Buxton. His batting average (.043) seemed to be missing a digit.
As he pondered those numbers on Friday, Moss said he felt encouraged, in moments, by his approach and plate discipline. In the offseason, he put his focus on being more selective at the plate. In seven games, he has drawn five walks. But on the whole, Moss said, he has missed too many pitches and wasted too many opportunities.
“I don’t feel the approach is that bad,” Moss said. “There’s been some good games and bad games, as there will be early in the season, as there will be all season. Obviously, the results just aren’t there. That’s what’s the most frustrating thing.
“It’s a game of results. I couldn’t care less if I break my back and bloop one over somebody’s head. A hit is a hit is a hit. Especially with guys on base.”
On Friday, Moss said his early problems had been catalyzed chasing too many pitches “underneath the zone”, which has led to more swings and misses. When he sees the ball up, he said, that is generally a sign that he is going well.
“I have made them throw strikes, even with their off-speed pitches,” Moss said. “The problem is I’ve missed pitches in the zone. When they’ll hang a changeup or they hang a slider, I’ve either taken the slider or I’ve swung through the changeup.”
Moss, 33, long ago learned to live with strikeouts. As a young player, he eschewed a higher batting average for more power, putting his focus on elevating the baseball and hitting pitches over the fence. The approach, however, can be susceptible to slumps. Last season, he clubbed 28 homers and 19 doubles in 128 games for the St. Louis Cardinals. But an ankle injury spurred a nasty late-season skid. He batted just .191 during the second half of the year.
“I’m always going to strike out a lot,” Moss said. “I do that. It’s one of those things where, like I said, sometimes I’m overaggressive on pitches I think I can handle and I can’t. Sometimes I just get fooled. That’s just part of the game for me. But I have been more selective.”
For now, Royals manager Ned Yost will remain patient with Moss, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason. On most days, Moss will occupy the designated hitter slot against right-handed pitching. The plan won’t change.
“He’s a guy, when he gets hot, too, he’ll hit 12 homers in a month,” Yost said.
As he prepared for another night in the Royals’ lineup, Moss acknowledged his frustration. Yet the sample size is still small, the season is still young, and there have been signs that he is close to a breakout. He hit three balls hard in a 3-1 victory over the A’s on Thursday night. His walk rate has been encouraging. He just needs to focus on attacking the right pitches, he said.
“When I start chasing underneath the zone, I start getting the swings and misses,” he said. “And last night, I hit three balls on the barrel. There’s nothing you can do about where they go.”