Judging the Royals

Royals’ Lorenzo Cain needs a ‘gamer’ at the plate

The Royals' Lorenzo Cain connects on a single during Tuesday's baseball game against the Orioles at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals' Lorenzo Cain connects on a single during Tuesday's baseball game against the Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The other day I was leaning against a bat rack (one of my hidden talents; I’m a professional-level leaner) when Lorenzo Cain came up and started pulling bats out of the rack and taking half cuts with each one. Lorenzo was searching for a good bat.

He told me he’d broken the last bat he really liked and was looking for a new "gamer" — the bat he’d take to the plate. We talked about what makes a good bat; Lorenzo likes a bat that’s balanced, not one with the weight down toward the barrel. We also talked about bats that have that feel; the ball jumps off the barrel after contact. Lorenzo said he won’t take a new bat into a game until he’s used it in batting practice. He wants to see how the ball comes off the bat after solid contact.

We then talked about hitting the ball to the opposite field; Cain admitted that he’s a better hitter when he looks to go the other way. When Lorenzo looks to pull the ball — and he’ll do that in certain counts like 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 — that’s when he gets fooled. He starts his swing too soon and will chase bad pitches. When Lorenzo is looking to hit the ball to right field, he waits longer and lays off sliders out of the zone.

But here’s the thing: when Lorenzo looks to hit the ball the other way, he can still pull his hands in close to his body, get the bat head to the ball and pull an inside pitch.

That’s when I dropped my George Brett story on him: "Y’know who believes hitting the ball the other way gets you out of a slump? George Brett. I hit with him once a week the winter before he retired." That’s a pretty impressive story until I admit the truth: it didn’t take me long to figure out why George was willing to hit with me — he needed someone to stand by the pitching machine and keep it from jamming.

Lorenzo grinned and started laughing: "Now that’s funny."

Cain picked up that night’s candidate for game bat and headed up the dugout steps. I told him if he got any hits that night, I was taking credit. If he went 0-fer, that was on him. Lorenzo said if he got any hits that night he didn’t care who got credit; in the big leagues, hits are hard to come by. Lorenzo Cain got two hits that night, and I now have a new, impressive story to tell.

By the way: have I mentioned I used to take batting practice with George Brett?

The Kansas City Royals are 30 games over .500

Before the 2015 season started, I heard two theories about how things might go:

1.) The Royals would let getting to game seven of the World Series go to their heads. They’d enjoy the parties, the celebrity and the attention that goes with making it to the Series — playing good baseball would become an afterthought.

2.) The Royals would realize how close they came to winning it all, bear down and play even better.

On Friday night the Royals played the Tampa Bay Rays and won 3-2. Kansas City is now 30 games over .500. Looks like theory No. 2 is the winner.

How do the Royals stay energized?

A few days ago I stood behind a TV reporter I didn’t know and listened to a Kansas City player reel off a list of clichés for the benefit of the television audience. Stuff like: that’s-a-good-team-over-there, we-play-hard-for-27-outs and we-believe-every-guy-in-this-clubhouse-can-help-us-win.

After the TV reporter got what she needed and walked away I asked the player if dealing with the media ever got old. The player said dealing with the media is part of the job, but he had been getting the same question for weeks: with such a big lead, how do the players stay energized?

Get past the clichés and the player said the real answer is this: it’s big league baseball, staying energized isn’t that hard.

In the big leagues, someone is trying to take your job every night. Someone is trying to make you look bad every night. If you’re playing well, big crowds are there to watch every night. That being the case, the player felt it wasn’t that hard to stay energized: if you want to stick around, you better bring it every night.

Good for him.

But when you see a team that’s playing poorly — and right now the Cincinnati Reds come to mind — you see guys going through the motions. When the Royals played the Reds, I wound up writing about a single play during which four guys failed to do their jobs. One guy made an error and three other guys didn’t do much to limit the damage. They were going through the motions on a last-place team.

When I get asked how deep the Royals will go in the playoffs, I usually respond that Kansas City fans ought to be happy the team is even going to the playoffs. I sat through a lot of bad baseball to get to where we are today: a good team that plays competitive baseball night after night. Even though they could, the Royals haven’t put it in neutral and coasted; they’re still playing hard and winning close ballgames.

That’s how you get to be 30 games over .500.

What’s up with Mike Moustakas?

A reader sent me an email asking how Mike Moustakas got his "swing and swagger back," and I thought the answer might interest the rest of you. (It’s not the first time I’ve written about this, but maybe you missed it, so it’s worth repeating.) I’ve got no clue about Mike’s swagger, but I can offer you some information on his swing.

In 2014 teams were shifting Mike, and he was trying to beat the shift by hitting the ball through or over the defenders on the right side of the field — and that didn’t work. So in 2015 Mike started hitting the ball to lightly defended left side of the field — and that did.

But once Moustakas started putting up numbers by going to left field, teams quit shifting him. Mike then went back to pulling the ball and his numbers started to decline. But once Moose went back into pull mode — remember, it’s a game of adjustments — teams started using shifts again and then Mike started going the other way again. His numbers started to climb. I asked Moose if he would continue to go the other way once teams went back to playing him straight up, and he laughed and said we’d have to wait and see.

Mechanically, Mike’s emphasizing his hands more. When a hitter pulls the bat through the zone with his body, his front shoulder flies open and his head goes with it. When you see Moose pop a ball up on the infield there’s a decent chance that’s what happened. When a hitter uses his hands to take the bat to the ball, the front shoulder has a better chance of staying closed until contact is made. After we talked about it, I summed up: "So you’re letting your hands lead the way?"

Mike responded with a fist bump and said: "You’re a smart guy — and I can’t believe I just said that."

We then both agreed that I’d do something dumb in the next five minutes and harmony would be restored to the universe.