Royals notebook: Emphasis on plate discipline yet to take hold

PHOENIX | This weekend’s return to Arizona makes it easy to recall spring training and, in particular, the Royals’ emphasis to improve on-base percentage and plate discipline.

The plan has, to date, been a spectacular failure.

The Royals entered Saturday’s game against Arizona on a streak of 21 consecutive games since they last drew more walks than their opponent. They also ranked 29th among the 30 teams in on-base percentage.

“I don’t know how many times I can talk about it,” manager Trey Hillman said. “I can’t give you any different answers. It’s a process. They either eventually get it or they don’t. If they don’t get it, you change personnel.”

Such change does not appear imminent.

“This early, no,” Hillman said. “I don’t (think about that). I think there is something to having close to 3,000 major-league at-bats before you start to say, `OK, check this guy off. Let’s see what we can get for this guy.’

“You’ve just got to keep reinforcing it. I don’t think it’s ever been talked about this much here in the past. It’s an uphill battle.”

The Royals’ 164 walks, entering Saturday, are easily the lowest total in either league. Houston ranked 29th with 185. Mark Teahen led the club with 28 walks, which placed him in a tie for 54th among all players.

Alex Gordon had 25. No other Royal had walked as many as 20 times. Veterans José Guillen and Miguel Olivo had a combined 13 walks in 428 plate appearances.

The Royals also ranked 29th among teams in pitches seen per plate appearance at 3.65. Esteban German led the club at 4.22 but no other player was higher than 4.00. Teahen, Gordon and David DeJesus were the only other players higher than the MLB average of 3.79.

The worst? Olivo, Alberto Callaspo, Joey Gathright and Ross Gload were each seeing 3.50 pitches or fewer per plate appearance.

“I shake my head a lot,” Hillman admitted. “You’re asking guys to go up there and perform. When they’re in this arena with the pressure that they feel from the lack of a productive record, they don’t equate performing with not doing anything.

“That’s what you do when you take pitches. You don’t do anything.”

Maybe so, but the Royals don’t have to look far to see the impact of plate discipline. Their own starters have thrown 100 or more pitches in less than seven innings on 22 occasions; the Royals are 3-19 in those games.

They are 23-23 in all other games.

“You just have to keep going with it,” Hillman said, “but history tells you that most of the time — not all of the time, but most of the time — the guys who end up getting the OBP are the guys who had it when they came into pro ball.”

Clock watching

DeJesus received a warning last week from baseball’s clock-watching police for wasting too much time in and around the batter’s box. Players are monitored regularly for adherence to MLB’s pace-of-game regulations.

DeJesus was surprised at being judged in violation.

“I don’t stand and give the praying sign or anything like that,” he said. “But I’ll be more aware of it now. When I step out of the box, I won’t go as far away.

“I’ll step out, gather myself and then hop back in. I won’t do the whole walk-around. I know I do that once in a while, but I don’t think I do that a lot. I don’t think I’m that bad to get a warning.”

Lineup shift

Hillman dropped second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to fifth in the lineup for the third time. Shortstop Mike Aviles batted in Grud’s usual No. 2 spot.

“Just trying to jiggle it up a little bit,” Hillman said, “and see if we can get some run production some way some how. Aviles has had some pretty good at-bats. We’ll see if he can continue that.”

Going blue

All on-field personnel will wear blue wrist bands, blue eye glare and blue-ribbon uniform decals for today’s series finale as part of a program to raise awareness regarding prostate cancer.

Major League Baseball is teaming with the Prostate Cancer Foundation in sponsoring the program. The PCF says prostate cancer strikes one of every six American men.

The bases and other game-used memorabilia will be auctioned at a future date with proceeds benefiting the PCF.

Watch party

Want to combine a trip to the Power and Light District with a little I-70 Series baseball? The Royals and the Power & Light District are teaming up to stage a free watch party at Kansas City Live for Tuesday’s game between the Royals and Cardinals.

The party starts at 6:15 p.m. for the 7:15 p.m. game from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The game will be shown on the area’s 192-square-foot video board. Several giveaways and other promotional events are planned.

Minor details

Left-hander Horacio Ramirez pitched six shutout innings Friday night in Class AAA Omaha’s 5-1 victory at Albuquerque. Ramirez threw 51 strikes in 80 pitches and allowed just three hits.

It was his second start since signing a minor-league contract on May 27. Ramirez, 28, was released in spring training by Seattle after going 8-7 with a 7.16 ERA last season in 20 starts. He was 30-22 with a 4.13 ERA in four previous seasons at Atlanta.

Billy Butler went one for three with two walks in the victory. He is batting .375 with a .453 on-base percentage in 15 games since being optioned to Omaha.

Pitches per plate appearance

(Through Friday)

Esteban German, 4.22

Mark Teahen, 3.97

Alex Gordon, 3.90

David DeJesus, 3.87

MLB average, 3.79

Billy Butler, 3.70

Royals average, 3.65

John Buck, 3.64

Mark Grudzielanek, 3.60

Tony Pena, 3.56

José Guillen, 3.55

Mike Aviles, 3.52

Miguel Olivo, 3.50

Alberto Callaspo, 3.48

Joey Gathright, 3.31

Ross Gload, 3.25

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