Call it a coincidence, but Billy Butler’s recent hitting surge has coincided with his return to first-base duty in place of Eric Hosmer.
“Sometimes you get your mind off just hitting, and you go out there and play,” Butler said about playing in the field as opposed to his regular role as designated hitter.
Since Hosmer left the lineup after getting hit on the wrist by a pitch on July 20, Butler has made five starts at first base, and he heated up during the weekend series against Cleveland, going six for nine in the last three games, including two mammoth, game-winning home runs.
Granted, the first home run was a pinch-hit blow, but Butler believes it was the by-product of his time at first base as opposed to his regular role as a designated hitter.
“It takes a little pressure off you,” said Butler, who had three of the Royals’ eight hits in Sunday’s 10-3 loss to Cleveland. “That’s what I’ve done my whole life. I didn’t DH when I was growing up.”
Hosmer is expected to return to the lineup on Tuesday night against Minnesota, and Butler, who moved from first base to DH after Hosmer broke in in 2011, is not clamoring to unseat Hosmer. But he suggested there’s a benefit to playing a game or so a week at first.
“I know the job’s Hosmer’s, he’s a Gold Glove first baseman,” Butler said, “but I feel like once or twice a week to get out there playing (first). Gold Glovers need an off-day, too. There’s a DH spot they can rotate.
“I feel they can maximize it more … Salvy (Perez) got to DH (Sunday), getting off his legs. I feel there’s a rotation. I can spell a guy. We’ve won five in a row and I’ve played at first. You can’t say we can’t win if I play over there.”
Pitcher Jason Vargas, still on the mend from a July 9 appendectomy, had no ill effects from his 45-pitch batting practice session on Saturday and will come back and throw 50-60 pitches on Thursday.
“Once he gets past this one, depending on where he’s at, we’ll determine if he needs to go on a rehab assignment or if he’s ready to go,” said Royals manager Ned Yost.
Hall of Fame connection
Royals manager Ned Yost’s mind was on Sunday’s game, but his heart was in Cooperstown, where his former boss, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox and former Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Frank Thomas, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.
When Yost was released by the Montreal Expos in 1985 after spending parts of six years in the major leagues, he signed with the Braves, who sent him to Class AA to catch some of Atlanta’s pitching prospects, including Glavine.
“They wanted a veteran catcher, so I said, ‘What the heck, I’ll try it,’ I didn’t want to go home,” Yost recalled on Sunday. “To see Tom and be part of his career from AA on … at that point did I think he was going to be a Hall of Famer? Nah … but I thought he had a chance to be a real good pitcher.
“We used to argue all the time because he threw a fastball, a curveball and a split, and he’d bounce the split. I kept telling him, ‘Dump the split, you’ve got to develop a change.’ He said, he didn’t need a change, the split would get everybody out …’
“I said, ‘The split will get everybody out in AA, but you’ll get nobody out in the big leagues, because they don’t swing at it. He loved his split, he went to AAA … and they started (hitting it), and he went to the big leagues and developed a change-up, and that’s what helped him get to the Hall of Fame.
“To see Tommy go in … what I learned from Greg Maddux on pitching has helped me tremendously to this day as a manager. I used to go out in the outfield after hitting fungoes and catching on the side, and stood next to Greg and talked about pitching every single day … It was a wonderful experience being with him.
“And being with Bobby for 12 years was probably the highlight of my career.”