Judging the Royals

The heat is on; the Royals try to finish strong

Even Alex Gordon (right) has to find ways to pace himself during the home stretch of a baseball season.
Even Alex Gordon (right) has to find ways to pace himself during the home stretch of a baseball season. The Kansas City Star

It’s late August and it’s smoking hot outside. Players — and members of the media — are dragging. These guys have been playing baseball since mid-February and they’re getting tired. In the past a guy could just go through the motions and it wouldn’t matter; the Royals would be out of the hunt early and people were just playing out the string. But now they’re in the playoff hunt and it’s pedal-to-the-metal — guys can’t afford to slack off.

So how do players get through the grind?

Wade Davis walked by, heading to the outfield carrying a fungo bat. I asked what was up with that and he said: “Savin’ bullets.” Instead of throwing the ball back to the infield when he’s shagging fly balls he’s using the bat to hit them back in. Why put more wear and tear on his arm if he doesn’t have to?

During Thursday night’s batting practice the Royals had all their relievers come off the field early — only the starting pitchers who weren’t throwing that night stayed. Any reliever might throw on any night; why have them on their feet when they can be up in the clubhouse resting for that night’s game?

Outfield coach Rusty Kuntz says you can look at a hitter’s spray chart and tell what month it is; they’re more likely to pull the ball when they’re fresh at the beginning of the season, and as the season grinds on their bats slow down — balls start getting hit to the opposite field. And guys are going to lighter bats; a hitter who was swinging a 34 inch, 32 ounce bat early in the season might keep the same length, but start swinging a 31 or 30 ounce bat.

Players have to adjust their workload. Alex Gordon — a notoriously hard worker — has had to back off his pregame workout. Instead of shagging balls for two hitting groups during batting practice, Alex has cut back to one.

If you’ve never played 162 games, you can’t imagine what a grind it is. Hell, I’m only writing about 162 games and I’m worn out. If the season’s a marathon, the Royals are trying to find a way to have something left for a finishing kick.

For more baseball insight from Lee Judge, check out his daily blog posts at “Judging the Royals” — KansasCity.com/judgingtheroyals. Follow Lee on Twitter at Twitter.com/leejudge8.