Judging the Royals

Why Mike Moustakas’ home run was a big deal

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hits a solo home run Monday in the fifth inning of the season-opening game against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas hits a solo home run Monday in the fifth inning of the season-opening game against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

When you pick up 13 hits and win 10-1 a lot of guys had a good day, but Mike Moustakas’ home run in the fifth inning of Monday’s win over the White Sox might have been the biggest play of the day.

Here’s why:

Last season teams felt free to use extreme shifts against Moustakas, confident that he’d probably pull the ball to the right side of the field. Put three guys between first and second base, pitch Mike inside or off-speed and let him hit the ball into the teeth of that shift. If a pitcher left a fastball out over the plate there was a good chance Mike would get out in front of the pitch and hook the ball between first and second base.

Last year Mike Moustakas hit .212, and that can make an impression on you.

This spring Moose was working very hard at hitting the ball to the opposite field; if teams are going to leave one guy between second and third base, take advantage of that open hole. Mike did the same thing last spring training, but then he seemed to fall back into his old habits during the regular season and pulled a lot balls to the right side.

In the fifth inning of this game, White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija left a 93-MPH fastball out over the plate, and this time Mike Moustakas took it the other way and hit it over the left-center wall. If Moose has early success taking the ball to the opposite field, it’ll help him stick with the program, and if Moose sticks with the program, teams will have to quit shifting and Moose probably won’t hit .212.

When teams put shifts on Moustakas, pay attention to how he attacks those shifts. In spring training Mike told me that if it was right-hander he hit well, he still might try to pull the ball. If it’s a lefty or a guy Moose has trouble with, he might take that single to left field. Do that and you become a more complete hitter — and that’s why that home run was a big deal.

It did a lot for the Royals — it made the score 4-0 — but it might have done even more for Moustakas’ confidence.

Lorenzo Cain gets drilled

OK, so Moustakas takes Jeff Samardzija out to left center and Samardzija takes his frustration out on Lorenzo Cain by hitting him with the next pitch he throws. Samardzija was unhappy because Cain was taking his time to get down to first base and told Cain to hurry it up — in the version I heard there was profanity involved. (Stunning that a ballplayer would cuss, isn’t it?)

Cain and first base coach Rusty Kuntz took exception and barked back at Samardzija. Then the Royals bench jumped in and Moustakas was seen on TV yelling at Samardzija. As I tweeted at the time: If you could read lips, you knew what Moose thought of the Chicago pitcher. (I swear that someone could be speaking Swahili and if they dropped an F-bomb in the middle of a sentence I could still pick it up.)

After the game a reporter asked Moustakas what he said and Mike developed a sudden case of amnesia — he said he couldn’t remember — which is damned smart of Mike.

Earlier in the game, Yordano Ventura hit Avisail Garcia and in the bottom half of the same inning Samardzija drilled Alex Gordon — even-steven. But hitting Cain put the White Sox one hit-batter up on the Royals. After the game I asked one of the guys in blue if it was over or were the Royals going to look for payback? His answer was: “Tomorrow is another day.”

The Royals don’t actually play tomorrow, so unless Danny Duffy is going to go to the White Sox hotel and hit someone with a fastball as they wait for an elevator, payback might have to wait until Wednesday.

And if it doesn’t happen Wednesday, remember: The Royals play the White Sox a lot — if they feel like they owe the Sox one, they’ve got plenty of time to get even.

Other stuff

▪ If you freaked out because Moustakas was batting second in the order, remember that what a guy has done in his career is less important than what he’s done the last 7-10 days. A future Hall of Famer can be in a slump; a number-nine hitter can be smoking hot. Moose hit well in spring training, so they got him some extra at-bats, and if that gets him jump started, so much the better.

▪ With the exception of Omar Infante, every Royals hitter got a hit. Getting off to a good start helps; nobody wants to look up at the scoreboard and see a bunch of zeros. An 0-10 in August won’t get nearly as much attention as an 0-10 in April.

▪ The Royals scored their first run because Alex Gordon kept the inning alive by taking out the second baseman so the White Sox could not turn an inning-ending double play. Stuff like that is why baseball people have such a high opinion of Gordo.

One last thing

Back to Lorenzo Cain getting hit by that pitch: When John Gibbons was the Royals bench coach, he told me that if someone on the other team got hit, the guys on your team would start trying to figure out who was going to get hit in retaliation.

It could go this way: You hit our centerfielder, now we’ll hit yours. Or you might do it by position in the order; your cleanup hitter gets drilled, you drill their cleanup hitter.

Gibby said that if a guy figured he was the target, he might start arguing his case with someone on the other team: “Y’know, I don’t think we hit your guy on purpose.” I asked John if that ever worked and he said no; you were still probably going to wear one.

So stay tuned and see what happens on Wednesday and Thursday — should be fun.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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