Royals keep auditioning for No. 3 hitter

KANSAS CITY, MO — The open auditions for the Royals’ No. 3-hole hitter march on.

Next up: Alex Gordon.

Gordon, entrenched in the leadoff spot where he flourished the past two months, now will get a serious look in the three spot.

“We knew Gordy wasn’t a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he’s a guy who has high on-base (percentage) and puts the ball in play,” Yost said. “But we also think he’s going to be a run-producer. He doesn’t really get the opportunity to produce runs from the one hole.”

Yost has tried several hitters in that three spot throughout 2012 with less-than-stellar results.

Mike Moustakas hit just .160 through 14 games in that position. Eric Hosmer, who many envision as the player most likely to eventually assume the role, hit just .165 in 32 games. Lorenzo Cain, who got off to a hot start after coming back from injury, cooled off in the three spot, hitting just .233 in 16 games.

By far, Billy Butler, the team’s best hitter, has been the most productive in the three spot. He has hit .274 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs through 55 games there.

But now it’s Gordon’s turn, and he’s just fine with the tryout.

“Hitting leadoff does teach you some good habits,” he said. “You take more pitches, be more selective. Hopefully I can still take that approach in the three hole.”

To most players, hitting third in the order still represents a badge of honor. It’s where all the great all-around hitters throughout history have hit.

“Yeah, whoever is going to be in the three hole will be one of the better hitters on the team,” Hosmer said. “It’s a big RBI spot. The other team tends to game plan around you.

“We’re still trying to find the right guy for that spot. Over the course of time, it will settle itself.”

While Butler has hit well in the three hole, he has hit even better as the cleanup hitter.

“I don’t think pitchers pitch you any different if you’re in the three hole or four hole,” he said. “Historically, I think I hit better in the three hole. But this year I feel more comfortable in the four hole, for whatever reason. But it’s a small sample size for me in the four hole.”

Butler agreed with Hosmer that hitting third does remain an honor, though.

“Here’s the thing. You put your toughest out in the three hole,” Butler said. “That’s what it comes down to. So yeah, there’s pride in that. But I really don’t care where I hit. I do kind of like to know exactly where I’m hitting each night, whether it’s three or four.”

Butler acknowledges that the prototypical three hitter probably has more speed than he does, although guys like former Seattle Mariner great Edgar Martinez often hit third.

“And he might have been slower than me,” Butler said, smiling. “But he was older and I have time to catch up to him and get slower.

“But seriously, you tend to put your best overall hitter in the three hole and that means maybe a guy with a little more speed. That sets it up for the four hole. The top three guys should be table setters basically for the four-hole guy, who should be the monster guy with big power to drive everyone in.”

Does that make Butler the monster guy ready to drive everyone in?

“On our team, we don’t technically have that right now in any of the spots – three, four or five,” he said. “Down the road, we’ll get there with me and Moose and Hoz. And that would be left, right, left. That’s probably what you want.

“But right now, it’s not there because we got young guys trying to make adjustments. It’s going to be a struggle for guys like Moose and Hoz. They’ll get there. We’ll keep working on the best combination.”

Butler can’t explain why, other than himself, no one has hit well from the No. 3 hole.

“It shouldn’t matter because they’re going to pitch to you based on who you are, not where you bat,” he said. “But when you’re younger, you may put a little more pressure on yourself hitting there.

“It will sort itself out. When guys get a little more experience, it will sort itself out.”