Mike Moustakas hit the brakes at second base and pounded his hands together. A wave of adulation and revulsion washed over him.
The majority of the fans at Busch Stadium jeered a result that sank their Cardinals. The smattering of Royals fans called out the nickname of Moustakas, who thumped a two-run, seventh-inning double in a 6-0 victory on Monday.
“The results were good,” Moustakas said. “The best part about it was we got two runs out of it.”
The noise melded into one, the night’s loudest reaction in an otherwise brisk, tidy affair. Moustakas recorded his first hit since returning from the minor leagues. He followed a solo home run for Alex Gordon as the Royals tagged St. Louis starter Shelby Miller for a three-run inning.
Danny Duffy, 3-5, rebounded from his last, sluggish outing with six sharp innings. He held the Cardinals scoreless, struck out five and allowed only two men on base. His fastball displayed more life, and his case of dead arm appeared to dog him for only one appearance.
With Duffy dealing, the offense capitalized on a series of Cardinal mistakes to avoid a repeat of the previous day’s shutdown at the hands of Toronto starter Mark Buehrle.
Miller lost the handle on two wild pitches in the seventh, putting two runners in scoring position for Moustakas. St. Louis outfielder Randal Grichuk overran a Salvador Perez single in the eighth, an error that opened the door for another three-run inning. In victory, the Royals gave gave evidence of their potential when their most pressing flaw, an inconsistent offense, does not hound them.
On Thursday, the team reassigned Pedro Grifol and installed Dale Sveum as their new hitting coach. The maneuvers had yet to alter the team’s reality: They still entered Monday’s game ranked last in the American League in on-base plus slugging percentage, runs and home runs.
Yet manager Ned Yost pointed out one area Sveum had already improved. Gordon homered on a fastball up and over the plate. Sveum told his hitters to key on elevated pitches like that one.
“He’s been doing a good job of working on that with us,” Gordon said. “It might be paying off.”
Even so, the blast showed the team’s dearth of power. It was the Royals’ 25th home run of the season. Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz has hit 20.
Much of the offensive blame lands on the shoulders of Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer. Together they have contributed two home runs. Hosmer entered Monday batting .177 in his previous games and went zero for four against the Cardinals. Butler hit .260 during that span, but with only three extra-base hits.
Playing in a National League park, Yost has a chance to start Butler at first base. He does not intend to do so, citing Hosmer’s Gold Glove defense.
“Hoz is swinging the way Billy is swinging,” Yost said. “So I’m not going to lose the defense for the same amount of offense.”
An infusion of offense may have to come from outside the organization. When the Royals listened to trade proposals involving Butler this winter, they pondered free-agent first baseman Kendrys Morales as a replacement, according to people familiar with the situation.
The team elected to stick with Butler. Two months into 2014, he is one of the worst hitters in the majors. His .609 on-base plus slugging percentage ranked 166th among the 175 hitters qualified for the batting title before Monday’s games.
And Morales is still available. He is expected to sign shortly after the draft on Thursday, when interested teams will no longer have to give up a pick as compensation. With the Royals’ offense stagnant, CBS Sports floated the possibility that they will pursue Morales.
The Royals have yet to engage in serious dialogue with Morales’ representative, Scott Boras. And they may not do so. General manager Dayton Moore has already referred to the team’s payroll, above $90 million for the first time in franchise history, as a “gamble.” To sign Morales would likely require the team to shed salary, and dump what remains of Butler’s $8 million contract elsewhere.
Considering his slugging performance, the chances of dealing Butler appear remote. Moore declined to speculate on his team’s intention and reiterated his faith in the improvement of his current roster. Still, he declined to close the door on Morales.
We will continue to look for ways to improve our team,” Moore said.
Morales appears a farfetched answer. On Monday night, Moore’s faith in his own was rewarded. The breakthrough started with Gordon. Moustakas finished the job.
“Since he’s gotten back, he’s hit the ball very, very hard,” Yost said. “I like the way he’s been swinging the bat.”
To reach Andy McCullough, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.