Flanny’s Five: Aoki is smiling and Yost has his coveted clutch hits
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals’ pulsating 2-1 win on Thursday night in 14 innings is just the type of win that could send this team on a winning streak. Or at least a winning surge.
Manager Ned Yost has been telling us for over a week that what his team needed the most was one big hit in the clutch from someone, anyone.
And for the second straight game that someone was Nori Aoki, who has been a disappointment most of the season.
After a dreadful start to the second half of the season, the Royals now have reached deep and grinded out two tough wins — a good sign.
It has been nice to see Aoki smiling as much as he has been the last 48 hours.
Aoki has not been what the Royals had hoped for when they acquired him from Milwaukee, and recently he lost his job as the leadoff man. And Thursday, Aoki, who at best is average defensively, was a DH for the first time in his career.
But Aoki has soldiered on and came through with the huge hit in Chicago on Wednesday that allowed Mike Moustakas to perform his game-winning slide into home. Aoki came through again Thursday with a liner to left that plated Lorenzo Cain for the walk-off win.
Aoki is a good dude who truly wants to contribute to the Royals’ success. But he has been pretty reserved in the clubhouse all season because of his struggles (.262 average, .652 OPS).
For the last two days, though, Aoki has been a hero to his mates and is joining in the clubhouse fun.
Thursday’s win came at a cost, of course. Yost had to use six relievers, including Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who both were used for the third straight game.
That means Yost will be begging tonight’s starter, Yordano Ventura, to be pitch efficient and go deep into the late innings. After that, it’s anyone’s guess whom Yost will summon.
Kelvin Herrera did not pitch Thursday night, but he did have to warm up twice, and the guess here is he probably has just one inning, at most, in him tonight.
Indians manager Terry Francona is in a similar bind, though not as bad. He used four relievers Thursday night.
But as Yost said after the game, if you’re going to exhaust your bullpen, at least get the win, which the Royals did.
THE HOZ DECISION
When we got to Chicago, Yost told us he didn’t plan to use Eric Hosmer (bruised hand) at all during the three-game set with the White Sox.
But Yost let Hosmer talk him into playing Wednesday, and that didn’t turn out well. Hosmer’s injury worsened to the point where he couldn’t grip the bat with his right hand.
It will be interesting to see if Hosmer gets up to the plate at all in this Indians series. He came in as a defensive replacement Thursday but when his turn came up in the order, Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for him.
The decision to play Hosmer on Wednesday might have set Hoz back a few more days. Yost admitted he had some regrets regarding his decision but added that there are times as a manager he puts his trust in his players.
That trust might have backfired this time.
BILLY’S PLAYING TIME
Billy Butler started again at first base and he likely will play there some more as Hosmer’s hand heals.
But Yost has indicated he likely will start using Ibanez or Aoki at DH more in the future, reducing Butler’s playing time. Yost explained that he simply needs more production out of that DH spot.
On Wednesday, Yost even sat Butler against a left-handed pitcher.
As you would expect, this reduced role stings Butler’s pride. But Butler told me recently that he understands that Yost must put out the best lineup he can each night. And Butler also said he’s not about to second-guess his manager.
THE EMERGENCE OF DANNY
Left-hander Danny Duffy continues to show he is emerging as potentially a top-of-the-rotation guy. In his last three starts covering 19 2/3 innings, Duffy has allowed just two earned runs.
Duffy was nothing short of brilliant again Thursday, shutting out the Indians on two hits through seven innings.
The only problem is the Royals’ offense continues to take a vacation during his starts. In his last seven outings, the Royals have scored just four runs for Duffy. Four.
That has got to change.