On early Saturday afternoon, Terrance Gore scaled the dugout steps here at Safeco Field and stepped onto the grass in foul territory, beginning another quiet day of work.
As the Royals hit early batting practice before the second game of a three-game series against the Mariners, Gore played catch with bench coach Don Wakamatsu. As a pinch-running specialist on the defending world champions, Gore’s workload can be limited. As of Saturday afternoon, he had appeared in just two of the Royals’ first 22 games. He had scored one run and stolen one base. He has not logged a plate appearance in a professional game since Sept. 22 of last year. As long as he stays on the Royals’ roster, that is unlikely to change.
The Royals relish having Gore’s speed off the bench. They do not appear too concerned that having the 24-year-old on the major-league roster could be stunting his development in other areas, such as at the plate or in the field.
“It’s about winning for us right now,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’re out of the development mode. We got out of that two years ago, for the most part.”
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Still, Gore said he does not want to waste the extra time he has while in the big leagues. So on most days, you can find him hitting off a pitching machine in an indoor batting cage, or working with Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz in the outfield.
“I’m always in the batting cages, always playing catch,” Gore said.
“It’s baseball; I’m playing baseball like I did since I was 5 years old. I’m trying to keep the speed, but improve my game in other ways.”
In 2015, Gore batted .284 with a .367 on-base percentage while playing 85 games at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. After years of struggling at the plate, Gore posted the best offensive season of his career. Still, the Royals see Gore best suited as a pinch-running specialist, somebody who can change a game in the late innings.
Gore, of course, likes to think of himself as a complete baseball player — or at least an aspiring one. He spends his afternoons working on the “little things” he says, such as fielding ground balls in the outfield or fine-tuning parts of his swing.
Recently, hitting coach Dale Sveum noticed that Gore was holding his bat too deep in his hands. Gore adjusted his grip, using his fingers to hold the bat. He said he has already seen improvement.
“The machine is actually really tough to hit, because you don’t have any timing, so you just hit with basically like your hands,” Gore said. “And a lot of guys that play every day go to the machine, so I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll go to the machine, too.’ ’’
Still, the question remains: Can Gore ever be anything more than a bit player? In 2014, he was a revelation during the playoffs, his speed confounding opposing pitchers. A year ago, he returned in September once again, spending the American League Division Series on the Royals’ roster before being left off for the ALCS and World Series. For now, his long-term future appears a little murky. But one thing is certain: If there is room on the roster, the Royals prefer to have his legs and speed at their disposal.
“The one tool that he has, his best tool, it helps us win ballgames right now,” Yost said. “So that’s what we’re looking to do.”