Royals pitcher Ian Kennedy and left fielder Alex Gordon aren’t ready to sit back in rocking chairs and have nostalgic conversations that included phrases like “we were something weren’t we.”
They each feel like they can still be premier players, and the Royals certainly need more out of them than moral support and words of wisdom.
Kennedy, 34, and Gordon, 35, are the elder statesmen of the Royals roster as well as the team’s highest-paid players, checking in with salaries of $16.5 million and $20 million, respectively. Each debuted in the majors in 2007, and they each recognize that significantly more of their career is behind them than ahead of them.
They’re trying to wring as many ounces of baseball out of their bodies as possible. While they share that goal and have discussed with one another the challenges they face as older players, they’ve taken different approaches to their fights against Father Time.
“When I hurt my oblique it was like all right, I’ve got to start looking at things now because I’m not 26 like some of these guys,” Kennedy said. “I’m 34. I talked to Gordo about it, and there’s some things you’ve got to change just because your body is a lot different than it was almost 2,000 innings ago.”
Kennedy’s oblique strain limited him to 22 starts last season, and he spent the better part of two months on the disabled list and pitched just three innings from the start of July through the first week of September. His 22 starts marked his fewest of any of his full seasons in the majors.
The fact that the oblique injury came on the heels of the previous season’s hamstring/groin ailments in 2017 made Kennedy seek answers from the team’s physical therapist, Jeff Blum.
“There’s always a constant adjustment, whether it be pitching — this, for me, was more of an off-field adjustment,” Kennedy said. “I feel like if you want to play a long time, you’ve got to make adjustments every three or four years.”
Blum and Kennedy changed the volume of Kennedy’s exercises in the weight room in the offseason, regularly having him do sets of as many as 30 reps when he used to go no higher than 10 or 12. They aimed to build endurance in the muscles.
Once he stopped running out of breath, Kennedy feels that he saw results in his workouts that gave him indication he was getting stronger in the “right ways.”
“It wasn’t like powerlifting, squat 400 pounds,” Kennedy said. “I can’t squat very much, but I can do it for a longer period of time.”
The Royals tossed around the possibility of using Kennedy in the bullpen this season. That seems like a longer shot now that the team has added veteran options such as Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman and Drew Storen along with returning players such as Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy, Brian Flynn, Tim Hill and Rule 5 acquisitions Sam McWilliams and Chris Willis.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the club’s faith in Kennedy’s ability to hold up physically was factored into the thinking that he could potentially handle a bullpen role.
“Ian Kennedy is capable of making adjustments,” Moore said. “He’s very, very smart. He’s healthy. He’s somebody who prepares. He spends a lot of time analyzing things. He works with our training staff and our strength and conditioning coaches very well. Ian is capable of making all those adjustments and continuing to pitch and pitch well.”
While Kennedy’s strength and conditioning adjustment included doing more, Gordon decided to take his foot off the gas pedal after his injury issues last season.
“It’s just adjusting to how your body feels,” Gordon said. “The main purpose is to be healthy out there and contributing, whatever you can do. Everyone has a different routine, different set-up. As you get older you definitely have to adjust. That’s what I feel like myself and Ian have done.”
Gordon’s issues started early and included a disabled list stint in April because of a left hip labral tear. When he returned, he swore off in-season weight lifting in favor of stretching and exercises with resistance bands and his own body weight.
“I just said the heck with the weights,” Gordon said. “I think it was putting too much stress on my body. When I went on the DL last year I felt like maybe the DL was because of lifting a little too much.”
He’s also given up the early morning workouts he’d made habit during spring training, often working up a sweat long before taking part in the team’s on-field practices. He simply found that he couldn’t do it anymore, it was wearing down his body.
“My whole career here has been basically with Gordie, and my whole career has been trying to back him off a little bit to the point where I’ve got to threaten him,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Gordon used to try to run himself ragged during the first two groups of BP and then come in and hit for the third group. When Yost wanted to move him to the second group and Gordon objected, Yost countered by saying he’d sit Gordon out of the lineup more often in order to force rest on him.
Gordon moved to the second group.
After making changes last year, Gordon said his body and his swing felt much better at the end of the season.
Yost believes Gordon was more productive batting third in the lineup late last season — eight of his 24 doubles and 19 of his 54 RBIs came in September — because of mechanical tweaks made by hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and quality control coach Pedro Grifol.
While Yost didn’t recall a noticeable difference in how Gordon held up physically down the stretch in 2018, he’s happy to see a little less of his six-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star left fielder this spring.
“In years past, I get here at 5:15 (a.m.) every day and I go workout,” Yost said. “By the time I’m done working out, it’s 6:30 and by that time I’ve always seen Gordie in the weight room working. Now, I’ll come out and I’ll change my shirt because it’s soaking wet and I’ll get a bottle of water and then I’ll walk out to say hit to Gordie — and he’s not here yet.
“He’s sleeping in a little bit more, which is good to see. He’s showing up a little bit later than he always had in the past, which is good because you know he’s going to be 100 percent in shape and ready to go anyway. The more rest he can buy here, the better off he’s going to be.”
The Royals announced the creation of “Club 42” on Wednesday as part as part of their recognition of Black History Month and MLB’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the late Jackie Robinson’s birth. MLB retired Robinson’s jersey No. 42 throughout baseball.
The idea behind Club 42 will be to offer instruction and guidance to youths in the Kansas City area. Members of the Royals front office will discuss their career paths and lessons learned in the sports business. Forty-two teenagers between the ages 13 and 18 will be selected from local organizations to meet with Royals associates.
The announcement comes a couple weeks after Robinson’s daughter Sharon visited Kansas City’s Urban Youth Academy.