Royals start spring optimistic about playoffs

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) James Shields entered Kansas City’s camp on Friday wearing a shirt with ”Propaganda” written on the front.

As the Royals begin spring training and aim to end a 29-year-old playoff drought since winning the 1985 World Series, the pitcher hopes to send a message.

”The Royals’ propaganda, I think we’re going to have a really good spring training,” Shields said. ”I’m real excited to be here and get going. Hopefully, we can continue doing what we did at the end of the year last year.”

”We’re in high spirits. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think spring training is where it all starts. Our main goal this year is to go to the playoffs and win the World Series, bottom line. We don’t take anything for granted.”

The Royals went 86-76 in 2013, their first winning season since 2003 and their most victories since John Wathan managed the 1989 club to a 92-70 record.

Kansas City remained in the chase for a wild-card playoff berth until the last week. The Royals finished 5 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the final spot.

”I think our players were able to have some quality experience of being in a pennant race,” general manager Dayton Moore said.

The Royals lost 20 of 28 in May and were six games below .500 at the All-Star game. They went 43-27 after the break.

”Credit Ned (Yost) and the coaching staff, getting through that tough time and getting the ship righted,” Moore said. ”It was predicated primarily on our pitching and defense. I think that quality experience allowed them (to) hopefully understand the rhythm of the major leagues, kind of the ups and downs.”

The Royals welcomed 31 pitchers and six catchers, including All-Star and Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez, to the opening of spring training on Friday.

Although the reporting date for position players is not until Wednesday, several are already working out, including a pair of 2013 Gold Glove winners, left fielder Alex Gordon and first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Designated hitter Billy Butler and newly acquired second baseman Omar Infante also have been in camp for voluntary sessions.

”Everybody comes in in shape,” Yost said. ”They like to work. It doesn’t really get stale for them, so no need to really freshen up on anything. They’ve all been here for the most part. I told the position players not to come in tomorrow, as they’ve been working hard down here.”

”As a player, I didn’t like standing around. I didn’t like doing things that I didn’t think helped us in any way, just to be doing things. So we try to eliminate all of that. Spring trainings have run really smoothly the last eight or nine years, so I don’t have to tweak it much.”

Shields will be a big key to the Royals’ success this season.

He went 0-4 last May, despite his 2.92 ERA for the month. He was 4-1 in September with a 3.18 ERA, and finished 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA.

”We know it’s a long season, 162 games in 181 days, that’s a lot of games,” Shields said.

Shields pitched in the playoffs for three years with Tampa Bay, then was traded to the Royals after the 2012 season. He said he believes this season could be longer, extended into October.

”Last year I compared the two teams,” Shields said. ”I’m not going to do that. We’re our own team now. We’ve established ourselves as a good team.”

”Whether it’s defense, baserunning, pitching, our bullpen and our offense, I think overall we’re really good,” he said. ”We just need to be able to put it together.”