Judging the Royals

If you listen closely, it sounds like Alex Gordon’s swing is back

Royals outfielder Alex Gordon hit a two-run single in the eighth inning of a victory over Minnesota on Wednesday.
Royals outfielder Alex Gordon hit a two-run single in the eighth inning of a victory over Minnesota on Wednesday. jsleezer@kcstar.com

I once asked Royals coach Rusty Kuntz if he could tell who was taking batting practice without looking and he said yes; when Billy Butler was at the plate, the ball made a different sound as it came off his bat.

Rusty explained what I should listen for, and there it was: when Billy hit the ball it made a higher, cleaner sound — more of a crack than a thud.

Recently, I was reminded of that story when Rusty started talking about Alex Gordon’s swing; lately, Rusty’s been hearing a much better sound when the ball comes off Gordon’s bat. To demonstrate the difference, Rusty snapped his fingers for the good, sharp sound that signifies good contact and whacked two fingers against his forearm for the dull thud that signifies contact that isn’t so good.

And Rusty isn’t crazy.

Well, actually he is, but not because he hears Alex Gordon making good contact. In Sam Mellinger’s Wednesday column, he reported a scout said the same thing to him; lately the scout had been hearing better contact off Gordon’s bat. Theoretically, the good sound comes from hitting the ball off the sweet spot and increased bat speed.

And the numbers — at least the ones I bothered to look up — support what Rusty and the scout have been hearing; Gordon’s hitting .224 and slugging .387 on the season, but over the last two weeks those numbers are .308 and .564, over the last week it’s .350 and .600.

Wednesday night against the Twins, Gordon went 2 for 4 and drove in a couple of insurance runs in the eighth inning, so I asked Gordon if he could hear the difference in the sound of the ball off his bat and he said he doesn’t even listen; he’s kinda busy doing other stuff at that point.

No matter what he does in these last four games it will be hard for Gordon to move the needle; his 2016 numbers are going to look bad. But if he has his swing back — and it sounds like he does — 2017 might look a lot different.

Just wait ’til next year

While Rusty was talking about Gordon’s swing he also had a few things to say about 2017. Rusty thought two short off-seasons and injuries caught up with the Royals this season, but if they get everyone healthy the offense will pick up in 2017.

If critics say the Royals need a couple of bats, Rusty thinks the Royals already have them; a healthy Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas will make a big difference.

Eric Hosmer takes angry BP

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career so I wanted to talk to him about what it takes to do that. As we walked out to the batting cage I told him there were people who didn’t think it took any particular skill to drive in runs; it had more to do with luck and teammates getting themselves in scoring position.

Hosmer’s face clouded over and he said I had ruined his high: he was feeling pretty good and I had ruined that for him and now he was going to go out and take “angry BP” — which he did. During batting practice Hosmer was putting balls in the fountains. But that’s referred to as “five o’clock hitting” — unless you do it in a game it doesn’t matter.

So I needed Hosmer to have a good game or I was going to get blamed for throwing him off psychologically. When players are hitting well they stick to whatever routine they have going; do something to disrupt their routine and if their hot streak ends, they might blame you.

So when Hosmer absolutely crushed a 1-0 fastball in the third inning — a two-run homer to right — with the exception of every guy wearing a Royals uniform, nobody was happier than me … or I … heck, both of us were happy because the pressure was off.

Unless I have to keep the streak going by saying something to put Hosmer in a bad mood before Thursday’s BP.

With my track record, I’m sure I’ll think of something.