Royals notebook: Guillen back in lineup but happy to be away from home

OAKLAND, Calif. | Outfielder José Guillen returned Monday to the Royals’ lineup after a one-game absence because of an ailing left groin. And it’s best — perhaps — that his return came in a road game.

Guillen acknowledged, again, being irritated by the boos Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium when he failed to make the catch on a high pop to short right field. He said the groin injury, aggravated earlier in the game, prevented him from making the play.

“Some fans got upset,” he said, “and I got upset because they thought I wasn’t trying. I heard all kinds of stuff out there. It bothers me. I should catch that ball, but I was having problems coming in.”

The ball fell for a two-out double in a tie game. Tampa Bay went on to score two runs in a 5-3 victory.

“A lot of those fans,” Guillen said, “they’re really getting into my head right now. They don’t know what’s going on. Fans who understand baseball, they know what’s going on. They know I care about winning.”

Guillen’s movement remained limited going into Monday’s series opener against the A’s at McAfee Coliseum.

“He feels a little bit better,” manager Trey Hillman said. “He’s going to try to play defense and hit fourth.”

Guillen continues to lead the Royals with 13 homers and 67 RBIs but was batting just .146 in his last 24 games, entering Monday, with no homers and seven RBIs.

“Right now,” he said, “I don’t know if I can play away either, but I feel much better playing away from home. I’m serious. I’m dead serious. Look at my numbers at home and my numbers on the road. What does that tell you?”

There is a disparity:

Guillen is batting .254 in 49 home games with five homers and 25 RBIs. He entered Monday with a .265 average in 50 road games with eight homers and 42 RBIs.

“Playing away has been more fun for me,” he said. “Why? I don’t know, but I’m real happy to be out of there. It’s been more fun for me to play on the road than to play at home. I wish we could go the rest of the season playing away.”

The current trip lasts just two more days. The Royals return Friday to Kauffman Stadium for a nine-game homestand against the White Sox, Red Sox and Twins.

Hometown hero

Oakland’s record-setting reliever, Brad Ziegler, has all kinds of Heartland ties. He was born in Pratt, Kan., went to high school in Odessa, Mo., and to college at Missouri State.

Ziegler, 28, set a major-league record Sunday by stretching his streak of scoreless innings at the start of a career to 27. That passed George McQuillan of the 1907 Philadelphia A’s, who held the old mark at 25 innings.

The Hall of Fame has already asked for Ziegler’s cleats and cap as a memento.

“I’ve never had anything handed to me in my career,” he said, “and that makes this even more satisfying.”

Ziegler made his debut May 31 after a torturous road to the big leagues that included two skull fractures. He spent time in 2004 with Schaumburg of the Northern League before signing with the A’s and beginning a slow ascent through their system.

First things first

Mike Aviles’ homer in the first inning of Sunday’s game against the Rays continued a trend that makes him the second-best, first-inning hitter in the majors among players with at least 25 at-bats in the first inning.

Aviles entered Monday game with a .448 average in the first inning with 13 hits in 29 at-bats. The Elias Sports Bureau says that ranks second to San Diego’s Scott Hairston, who is batting .485 with 16 hits in 33 at-bats.

“I stick with the same approach,” Aviles said. “I look for a ball that’s a little bit up, a ball that I can actually hit. That’s the approach I use every at-bat. I guess it’s just coincidence.”

Aviles entered Monday with nine hits in his last 14 at-bats in the first inning.

Ready to try again

If long-time Royals captain Mike Sweeney is to make it back to active duty with the A’s after undergoing surgery June 11 on both knees, it will be as first baseman. Not a designated hitter.

Sweeney is scheduled to begin a rehab playing assignment Friday at Class AAA Sacramento.

“With Big Frank (Thomas) being here,” Sweeney said, “I need to play first base if I want to play on this team. They want me to take a lot of reps at first, and my body will tell me if I can play this game or not.”

It promises to be a long shot if Sweeney’s ginger movements Monday in pre-game drills are any indication. He was batting .292 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 40 games prior to his injury.

Minor details

Reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta got the victory Sunday in Class AAA Omaha’s 5-4 victory at Tucson despite allowing two runs and three hits in three innings. RBI doubles by Brayan Peña and Jason Smith provided the O-Royals with a two-run comeback in the ninth inning.

Yabuta has yet to find his form at Omaha. He has a 6.20 ERA in 20 1/3 innings over 11 appearances since his June 25 demotion.

Helping out

Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera was picked as the American League player of the week — in large part because he went eight for 16 with 10 RBIs in the Tigers’ three-game sweep over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.

Cabrera finished the week overall with 13 hits in 28 at-bats and 13 RBIs.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle