Flanny’s Five: What should Moose work on in Omaha? Clearing his head

The Royals are hoping a little time in Triple A will help Mike Moustakas kick his season-long funk at the plate.

Charlie Riedel/AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals are 23-23, trying to keep their heads above water until the offense consistently shows up, as manager Ned Yost likes to remind us.

It’s also helpful to remember that last year after 46 games, the Royals were 21-25 and smack in the middle of a slide in which they would lose 12 of 13.

In other words, it’s not that bad.

WHAT WILL MOOSE WORK ON?

I will be curious to find out what mechanical adjustments, if any, Mike Moustakas will work on while he’s at Triple-A Omaha.

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Since the season started, Moustakas has gone from an exaggerated open stance with his lead foot almost out of the batter’s box, to a more conventional open stance with his lead foot facing the second baseman. The open stance is an attempt to get to inside fastballs more quickly, as is keeping his hands more in front of him in his setup.

The guess here is that Moose and Omaha hitting coach Tommy Gregg won’t tinker greatly with the setup that Moose worked on in Venezuela in winter ball and during spring training in Arizona. You don’t rebuild swings in the middle of the season, unless you plan on having Moose in Omaha the rest of 2014.

More likely, Moustakas will simply reboot his mind. Billy Butler told me the best thing about his demotion in 2008 was that after a few days completely away from the media and the perceived pressure of the big leagues, he was able to completely immerse himself in baseball again. The game became fun again to him.

And Butler also added that he was able to come back with a much better perspective about all aspects of baseball. Butler was gone only about three weeks back then.

"I came back feeling fresher," he said.

Let’s hope Moose has the same experience, because the Royals need him to be productive in their fragile offense.

REAL GUTS A LITTLE UNSUNG

Most of the conversation about the Royals’ rotation these days centers around the determination of ace James Shields, or the craftiness of Jason Vargas, or the electrifying stuff of both Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura.

Lost in the shuffle has been Jeremy Guthrie, who less than two years ago was a bit of a savior for the rotation. Remember that in 2012, Guthrie came here in one of general manager Dayton Moore’s best trades ever. Moore unloaded the awful Jonathan Sanchez straight up to the Rockies for Guthrie, who went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 games for the Royals.

Those numbers look fairly modest now, but back then they certainly looked shiny next to the ERAs of the others in a horribly bad rotation — Luke Hochevar (5.73), Bruce Chen (5.07), Will Smith (5.32), Sanchez (7.76) and Vin Mazzaro (5.73), to name a few.

Guthrie now has taken a backseat somewhat to the other starters, but continues to give the Royals decent-to-good outings almost every time out.


Guthrie had that rough start in Seattle recently (the game the Royals won 9-7) but has surrounded that with three good starts in which he has thrown 23 innings and given up just 15 hits and six runs.

"Jeremy is just a pro. He goes out there and gives you quality innings and keeps you in the game," Yost said again this week.

AOKI TURNS IT LOOSE

One of the highlights of the Royals’ 3-1 win Wednesday was Nori Aoki’s bold decision to bunt with two strikes — he laid down a perfect bunt and raced to first without a throw. That kick-started the winning rally.

The Royals have been urging Aoki to take chances like that because he is an excellent bunter, maybe the best on the team, and with two strikes, opposing third basemen almost always drop back to normal depth.

Through his interpreter, Aoki said afterward that it was indeed the first time he had bunted with two strikes as a professional, in Japan or here. You might see it again.

MISSING SAL AND OMAR

There will always be a significant drop-off in talent from a starter to a bench player on any team, but the absence of second baseman Omar Infante and catcher Sal Perez certainly has been felt in the Royals’ lineup. Infante (back spasms) is starting a rehab assignment with Omaha tonight and Perez (bruised hand) could be back in the lineup Saturday or Sunday.

We saw how much Infante is missed when some key double plays weren’t turned this week, and we saw again how valuable Perez is behind the plate when his backup, Brett Hayes, had trouble stopping any of Ventura’s three wild pitches Tuesday.

The Royals need a healthy Infante and Perez if they are to make a run here soon.

TOUGHER DAYS AHEAD

After next week’s three-game home series with the lowly Astros, the Royals will begin a tough 12-game stretch with Toronto, which leads the AL East, St. Louis (second in the NL Central) and the Yankees (second in the AL East).

The Royals could do themselves a big favor by snatching two of three this weekend from the Angels and sweeping the Astros to gain some momentum for that 12-day gauntlet.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.