The initial signal came from the Tampa Bay Rays dugout, and catcher Curt Casali stuck his right arm straight out to the side. Pitcher Drew Smyly responded with four straight pitches wide of home plate, issuing an intentional walk to Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain in the third inning.
From a few steps in front of the on-deck circle, Royals cleanup hitter Eric Hosmer made a brisk walk to the plate, arriving in the left-handed batter’s box before Cain even unstrapped his ankle guard.
And then he punished the Rays for the decision.
Hosmer shot a single to the opposite field to drive in a run, part of a three-hit night in the Royals’ 10-5 win Tuesday.
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“It definitely motivates you as a player,” Hosmer said of the intentional walk before his at-bat. “You want to get in there and make the most out of the opportunity.”
Hosmer collected two of his three hits off Smyly, a left-hander. It’s the lefty-lefty matchup that probably led to the Rays’ decision to walk Cain and take their chances instead with Hosmer.
And it’s a decision Hosmer said he expects to see plenty more times this season. Why? Cain has abused left-handed pitching to the tune of a .359 average this year. And he already had homered in the first inning Tuesday.
“I realize it’s the right move,” Hosmer said. “It’s a tough lefty, and Cain hits lefties really well.”
But Hosmer isn’t bad, either, at least not for a left-handed hitter.
He has bucked the lefty-lefty trend — to a certain degree — in his career, hitting .264 since his arrival in 2011. During the same time frame, the league average is .237.
Three of his 10 home runs this season have come against lefties, which could begin to offer pause to opponents about adding another runner to the base paths.
“He stays on the ball really well,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He can drive the ball to all fields, like we saw him do tonight. When they throw him away, he can just pound the ball to left field.”
Hosmer upped his average to .330 on Tuesday, and he is 7 for his last 10 with runners in scoring position. He was aided Tuesday by a slow reaction from Rays second baseman Steve Pearce, who was unable to corral a ground ball in the fourth inning. The ball deflected off Pearce and into center field, and Hosmer turned it into a hustling double.
That, too, came during an at-bat against a lefty.
“You want to try to stay to left center and keep that front shoulder in. Anytime you open up against a lefty, that’s trouble as a hitter,” Hosmer said. “So you try to keep that front shoulder in, take the ball to left and just go off that approach.”