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Royals notebook: Hillman seeks to pick 'right spots' for Ka'aihue

MINNEAPOLIS | Even when Royals manager Trey Hillman shook up his lineup Wednesday — in an effort to inject more “energy” throughout the order — rookie first baseman Kila Ka'aihue remained on the bench until the eighth inning.

Veteran Ross Gload started at first base.

Hillman knows that decision won’t go down well with fans anxious to see what Ka'aihue can do after his breakthrough year in the minors: 37 homers, 100 RBIs and a .314 average in 124 games at Class AAA Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

“I’ll continue to look for opportunities for him to play,” Hillman said. “I appreciate what (the fans) want to see. I want to see it as well. But as I said early on, (his playing time) is probably going to be in shorter spurts that it will be for Ryan Shealy.”

Hillman said he opted for Gload over Shealy and Ka'aihue because of the matchup against Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey, who had limited the Royals to two earned runs in 14 2/3 innings in two previous starts.

Gload entered the game with three hits in seven career at-bats against Slowey. Perhaps Gload validated the strategy; his double in the fifth was one of just four hits yielded by Slowey in seven innings.

The Twins breezed to a 7-1 victory.

When Ka'aihue did get his chance, he struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning against reliever Boof Bonser.

“I want to try to pick the right spots (for Ka'aihue),” Hillman said. “That way we can not only give the fans a chance to see what they want to see, but we can give the young man a higher-percentage chance to perform.”

Hillman also cautioned against placing unrealistic expectations on Ka'aihue, who has started just one of eight games since joining the Royals.

“I’m not trying to count KK out for a spot next year,” Hillman said. “But he did move two levels this season. He’s getting a taste (in the big leagues).

“Percentages tell us that, typically, you don’t see a guy go Double-A, Triple-A in one year and then be an impact guy (the following year) at what we hope is a slug position at first base.”

Gordon: `Good to go’

Injured third baseman Alex Gordon reported no problems in recovery from a torn right hip flexor after going through a third day of full on-field workouts.

“I’m good to go,” he said. “Trey just said he didn’t want me to (return) on (artificial) turf because of possible injuries.”

Hillman is targeting Gordon for a likely return Saturday in the first game of a day/night double-header in Cleveland. Gordon could return Friday — but that would be a lefty-lefty matchup against Indians ace Cliff Lee.

“The first day back,” Hillman said, “there’s no sense putting him back in the lineup against Mr. Cy Young.”

Gordon hasn’t played since suffering the injury Aug. 21 in Cleveland.

Whenever Gordon returns, it will be as the third baseman. Hillman said Mark Teahen will shift back primarily to the outfield after starting 15 of the last 17 games at third.

“We’ll mix-and-match Tee,” Hillman said. “When Alex comes back, I certainly don’t plan on playing him every day. We’ll see how his body reacts. We’ll mix Mark back into the outfield and try to keep his at-bats going.”

Hosmer on hold

The Royals, as they feared, learned there won’t be a quick resolution to the grievance filed by the players’ union that has first baseman Eric Hosmer in limbo.

Commissioner Bud Selig was the only witness to complete testimony Wednesday before arbitrator Shyam Das recessed the hearing until Sept. 23.

The case centers primarily on Pittsburgh’s negotiations with third baseman Pedro Alvarez. It ensnared the Royals and their top pick, first baseman Eric Hosmer, after the Commissioner’s Office admitted both deals were approved after the deadline.

Alvarez chose not to sign his deal, but Hosmer signed and played three minor-league games before the Royals were ordered to stop playing him. Hosmer is not contesting his contract.

If hearings aren’t completed Sept. 23-24, Das’ schedule won’t permit them to resume until October.

Pitching plans

The Royals expect to decide after today’s series finale on a starting pitcher for the second game of Saturday’s double-header against the Indians.

“I don’t project any surprises as far as bringing anybody new into the fold,” Hillman said. “It’s probably going to be a bullpen start, and we’re probably not going to go to a guy and say, `We need five (innings) out of you.’

“We’ll probably go to somebody and say, `Two-plus will be fine.’ Then we’ll piece it together from there.”

The Royals are carrying 12 relievers in taking advantage of the rules permitting rosters to expand from 25 to 40 players in September. The usual bullpen complement is seven.

Zack Greinke is scheduled to pitch the first game of the double-header.

Minor details

Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer helped power Class A Burlington to a 6-0 victory over South Bend in the first game of the Midwest League best-of-five championship series.

Right-hander Daniel Gutierrez allowed just two hits in six shutout innings while striking out 11 and walking one. Three relievers combined to retire nine straight Salt Hawks in the final three innings.

Outfielder Jamar Walton and second baseman Johnny Giavotella also homered for the Bees, who swept their two previous playoff series.

The championship series continues tonight in Burlington before shifting Friday to South Bend. The fourth and fifth games, if necessary, are Saturday and Sunday in South Bend.

The Bees are the only Royals’ affiliate still playing in postseason. South Bend is an Arizona affiliate.

Looking back

It will be nearly 39 years ago — Sept. 11, 1969 — that Royals owner Ewing Kauffman announced plans to establish a baseball academy in Sarasota, Fla., to hone promising athletes into ballplayers. Syd Thrift was hired as the director.

The academy lasted three years and graduated 14 players to the big leagues.

Etc.

The Royals scored fewer than two runs for the 27th time this season. Five of those games have been against the Twins.

Teahen had two of the Royals’ six hits. He also had a walk in four plate appearances.

Reliever Jimmy Gobble has made three straight scoreless appearances since returning from a rehab assignment at Class AAA Omaha. The last time he did that was late May.

The Twins have a 2.48 ERA in their 14 games against the Royals.

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