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Royals hope spring production carries into season

Major League Baseball

POSTED April 3, 2012 1:16 a.m.
The Associated Press/

Kansas City Royals first baseman Billy Butler k...

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Judging by spring training, the Kansas City Royals will score lot of runs this season.

However, they may also allow plenty of them too.

The Royals left Arizona on Monday with a Cactus League-leading .303 batting average, scoring 155 runs.

The first four hitters in the lineup hit at least .385 — Eric Hosmer .416, Lorenzo Cain .394, Billy Butler .388 and Alex Gordon .385. All had an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of higher than 1.000.

Hosmer left Arizona with a 13-game hitting streak and a major league-leading 29 RBIs.

"I feel like every time he comes up and there's a runner on he's going to drive them in," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I think he's going to be a special player for us for years to come."

Hosmer sports a Mohawk haircut that Kansas City actor Rob Riggle labeled "The Warrior" when he took batting practice with the team in March.

"We're confident that we can be a real good team," Hosmer said. "We just want to get going and see what this season has for us."

After exhibition games Tuesday and Wednesday against the San Diego Padres in California, the Royals will open the season Friday at the Los Angeles Angels.

The Royals will need their pitching to improve for them to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series.

Despite the lofty offensive numbers, the Royals entered Monday 15-15 in the spring, because the pitching staff allowed 160 runs. Only the Cleveland Indians gave up more runs. Opponents hit .301 against Kansas City pitching.

Left-hander Bruce Chen, who has led the Royals with 12 victories in each of the past two seasons, draws his first opening day assignment.

Chen has a career 60-58 record with the Royals his 10th club. No other Kansas City starter has a winning record in the majors.

Luke Hochevar, who threw 62 pitches in a four-inning simulated game Monday, will start the second game. There was a strong 22 mph crosswind as Hochevar faced minor league hitters, not Albert Pujols.

"It's a 9:30 simulated game on a backfield," Hochevar said. "You have to find a way to focus just as you would in a stadium full of 40,000.

"Granted, I could have went out and treated it as what it was, but I know I have a good lineup coming up in the opening series. I wanted to go out and have my focus and my approach how it's going to be in that first game. That was my main goal, to have my focus as strong as I can and execute quality pitches. You get in that habit and it becomes a habit."

Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, who was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in a trade last November, will be the No. 3 starter. Sanchez helped the Giants win the 2010 World Series, going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA, but last year was limited to 19 starts because of injuries and was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.

"Jonathan Sanchez is even better than I dreamed he would be," Yost said.

Luis Mendoza enters his 12th season, but the 28-year-old right-hander has appeared in only 38 big league games.

He was the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year in 2011 and will be the No. 4 starter. Mendoza went 4-0 with a 0.54 ERA in five Cactus League starts.

Danny Duffy, a 23-year-old left-hander who can touch 97-98 mph with his fastball, has been erratic in spring training, going 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA.

"We knew all along there will be days when Danny Duffy is unhittable," Yost said. "And there are going to be days where he's going to struggle. That's just what it is. We've got to get through those days, so we can get to the point where he can step on the mound and consistently compete at the major league level.

"His stuff is above average in all categories. Command is below average for major league standards. We have to work through that and keep developing him, so that we can get to that spot."

The Royals' rotation had a 45-65 record with a 4.82 ERA last year with only two complete games, both eight innings, and no starter threw 200 innings.

The Royals will open the season with five players on the disabled list.

Closer Joakim Soria is out for the season and is set to have elbow surgery.

Starting catcher Salvador Perez and rookie backup Manny Pina had knee surgery. Perez probably won't return until July.

Felipe Paulino, who was projected to be in the rotation, has a forearm strain, but could return this month. Reliever Blake Wood has a sore elbow.

 


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