Royals sticking with Billy Butler despite early-season hitting slump

A few days ago, as Billy Butler ventured deeper into an early-season funk, Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol approached him with a suggestion. Grifol instructed Butler to back up off the plate so he can better combat inside pitching and cease producing a slew of ground balls.

Butler can be stubborn in defending his mechanics, but he was open to the suggestion by Grifol.

“I have to be able to hit the inside pitch, too,” Butler said. “And whenever I stand too close to the plate, I can’t. It locks me up.”

Butler blames himself for inching too close to the plate during spring training. He considered it an unconscious consequence of his desire to hit balls to the opposite field. Grifol was merely moving him back to his natural position at the plate.

Butler has only six hits in 39 at-bats this season. He has yet to produce an extra-base hit. Heading into Sunday’s game, he was hitting the ball on the ground 70 percent of the time when he put the ball in play. He grounded out in his first two at-bats on Sunday, then struck out in his latter two.

The Royals still believe Butler will flourish as a hitter this season. But manager Ned Yost did not sugarcoat his struggles thus far. When asked whether he saw positive signs with Butler, Yost laughed. “Not really,” he said.

Still, Yost does not intend to shuffle his lineup. Butler will remain his No. 4 hitter, sandwiched between Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, with catcher Salvador Perez still batting sixth.

“Of course I’ve considered it,” Yost said. “But it’s too early to do it. Way too early.”

Yost then added, “It’s more of a groupwide thing. Than it is one guy that you move down in the lineup, or two guys. It doesn’t much of an effect, in my opinion, when you do that type of stuff. It’s just a matter of time before these guys get going.”

In time, Butler and team officials believe, his hits will come. Butler insisted his mental approach was fine. But his mechanical approach needed some maintenance.

“It’s all timing,” Butler said. “And if I’m hitting the ball on the ground like I am now, my timing is not where it needs to be yet.”

Ventura ready for Tuesday

One reason for positivity among Royals fans?

Yordano Ventura starts again on Tuesday. He will take the ball as the team begins a three-game set in Houston. Ventura excelled in his 2014 debut last week against the Rays, allowing just two hits in six scoreless innings.

“He’s always had that special knack, to be able to, on any given day, throw three pitches for strikes,” Yost said. “He’s still a little inconsistent with his curveball, because he tries to get too big with it. But when his curveball’s right, man, he’s got three pitches he can get you out with.”

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