Young Royals open against contending Angels
Judging strictly by the spring training stats, the Kansas City
Royals are the team to beat in the American League.
The long-woeful Royals had a better record – 20-10-1 – than
anyone in the exhibition season and scored more runs – 230 – than
any other team in the Cactus League.
But they’re also the franchise that has just one winning season
in the past 17 years and will launch the year against the Los
Angeles Angels on Thursday with five rookies, including four in the
bullpen, and an opening day starter who’s never experienced a
Nevertheless, manager Ned Yost cannot help but be
”We as a club swang the bats really, really well,” Yost said
Wednesday as workers, bundled against the cold, scurried around
getting Kauffman Stadium ready for the first pitch.
”We were very consistent defensively all spring long,” said
Yost, the former Milwaukee manager who took over during last season
when Trey Hillman was fired. ”We had one bad game, and it was a
stinker. I’ve never been to a spring training like that where we
were that consistent over the entire course of the spring.”
The Royals’ payroll of $38.5 million is the lowest in the majors
and one reason they’re not expected to finish much better than last
again in the AL Central. In place of 2009 Cy Young winner Zack
Greinke, who was traded to Milwaukee, the Royals will open their
season with right-hander Luke Hochevar. The right-hander was 6-6
last year with a 4.81 ERA.
The Angels will spend the season celebrating their 50th
anniversary. They were 80-82 last year, their first losing season
since 2003. Manager Mike Scioscia will open the season with
right-hander Jered Weaver, the majors’ 2010 strikeout leader who
was 13-12 last year with a 3.01 ERA.
Weaver’s 233 strikeouts made him the first Angels pitcher since
Nolan Ryan in 1977 to lead the league.
”That guy knows how to pitch. He hits his spots and he’s
deceptive,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said.
At 18-13, and boosted by newcomer Vernon Wells in the outfield,
the veteran-laden Angels had an encouraging camp of their own.
”We feel good,” said outfielder Bobby Abreu, one of several
Angels hitters who put together a solid spring. ”We feel that we
have a good team put together. We have some pretty good starting
pitchers and some guys in the bullpen that can do the job with no
problem. We’ve got offense, we’ve got defense, and a group of solid
players who know how to play the game. We’ve got speed and power
together, so we just have to play our game.”
Definitely not encouraging was the soreness in the left foot of
first baseman Kendrys Morales. The Angels’ cleanup hitter broke his
left ankle last May 29 when he jumped on home plate after a
game-winning grand slam. He’ll be back in California getting the
foot evaluated when the Angels mark their first half-century and
begin pursuit of their sixth division title in eight years.
”There’s no doubt that Morales was a big part of the lineup
last year,” Abreu said. ”I don’t think it’s that easy to replace
a guy like Kendrys because he’s a good player offensively and
defensively at first base and he has outstanding potential. But we
have to do it this year without him, too, and wait for him whenever
he comes back. But we still have a strong lineup.”
Hunter, who was moved from center to right field last season to
accommodate the promotion of Peter Bourjos, is happy to be opening
on the road.
”When you open up at home, you have ticket situations and
requests for certain (media) things,” he said. ”But on the road,
you can just relax. So it’s going to be a lot more relaxing opening
on the road.”
One of the more interesting aspects of the 2011 Royals will be
youth. Between the rotation and All-Star reliever Joakim Soria will
be four bullpen rookies, Nate Adcock, Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress
and left-hander Tim Collins.
A fifth rookie, outfielder Jarrod Dyson, also made the club.
Back in Triple-A Omaha, in the meantime, are several other
promising youngsters who may well be called upon to make their big
league debut before the season is up.
When his young team got their first look at Kauffman Stadium,
Yost could see the anticipation in their eyes.
”You definitely saw the excitement. It was real evident when we
got here last night,” he said. ”They walked in the clubhouse,
then went out to see the field. It’s a pretty special time. They’ve
worked their whole life for this opportunity and it’s finally here.
It’s a very, very exciting time.”