Royals looking to build on strong finish to 2018

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              Kansas City Royals' Jordan Romano, left, leads teammates as they run sprints during baseball spring training Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals lost 104 games in 2018 despite finishing the season 20-14. They hope they can begin this season like they ended the last one, and not the way they’ve started in recent years.

“These guys made a lot of progress from the middle of August all through September,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Monday before the club’s first full-squad workout. “They played really, really good and exciting baseball.

“Does that mean we’re automatically going to come in here and pick up where we left off? No. We’re going to have to pick up where we left off. We’re going to have to work hard to continue that type of improvement. I’m real excited about it.”

The Royals entered May last year with a 7-21 record. In 2017, they went 7-16 in April. Each year, they endured a nine-game losing streak in the season’s first month.

“We started to put it all together in August,” said second baseman Whit Merrifield, who led the AL in hits and stolen bases. “Once we started winning games, we got confidence and momentum. That’s what we were missing at the start of last year.

“I think if we got off to a good April last year, our season would have been drastically different than it was. It is important for us to get off to a good start, so we’re going to be ready to do that come March 28th.”

Kansas City will hope to have All-Star catcher Salvador Perez healthy to start the season. Last year, he slipped on stairs carrying luggage just before the season opener and missed the first 20 games.

Another factor in the poor start was outfielder Jorge Bonifacio getting an 80-game suspension to begin the season after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

The Royals have 64 players in spring training, including 35 pitchers and a dozen infielders.

“The last two months last season were a lot of fun,” third baseman Hunter Dozier said. “We’re just going to build off of that. That’s what kept me going and a lot of guys going in the off-season is how we finished. We want to get off to a good start and have a good spring.”