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Royals notebook | Bloomquist making the most of his opportunities

ANAHEIM, Calif. | Willie Bloomquist still doesn’t have a position to call his own. Other than that, things couldn’t be going much better for the veteran utilityman.

The Royals just won two games from his old team, the Seattle Mariners, and he enters this weekend’s series against the Angels on pace to garner the most playing time of his career.

It’s no coincidence, he’ll tell you, that he’s also on pace for the most productive summer in his eight big-league seasons.

“I didn’t have a lot consistent at-bats (in the past),” he said. “Of course, you’re going to hear that, especially being a utility guy and a role player. But I’ve already got more at-bats this year than I had through the end of June last year.”

Bloomquist carried a .377 average and .452 on-base percentage into Friday’s game against Los Angeles at Angel Stadium. His career totals for his seven previous seasons in Seattle were .263 and .322.

“His offensive numbers are better than I anticipated, yes,” manager Trey Hillman said. “Defensively, I’m not really that surprised, to be honest. But the offensive on-base percentage and his consistency in staying to the middle and right centerhas been impressive.

“The other thing is he has absolutely zero fear on the basepaths. He’s never afraid to go. He’s not afraid to steal off anybody. From that respect, yes, he’s been more than I anticipated.”

Bloomquist has already logged time this season at five positions, including starts at second, short, left and right. He has also started 18 of the club’s 30 games after starting just 40 games all last season in Seattle.

“Sure, that makes you look to get him in the lineup,” Hillman said, “but not to keyhole him at one position. His versatility is too important to us.”

Playing time was a key factor last winter when Bloomquist, 31, went shopping for a new home as a free agent. He had just 192 plate appearances last season in Seattle and never had more than 283.

“It’s tough to get into any kind of rhythm or consistency offensively,” he said, “when you aren’t getting consistent playing time.”

The Royals offered the promise of a long look at second base _ where off-season doubts surrounded Mark Teahen and Alberto Callaspo _ along with the lure of a two-year contract for $3.1 million.

That two-year offer, for a light-hitting utility player, raised eyebrows throughout the industry, but the Royals were determined to add a veteran middle infielder. They also looked at Jerry Hairston and Craig Counsell before signing Bloomquist.

“Our second base situation was what it was,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “But even if (Bloomquist) didn’t fit in every day at second base, or even in a platoon-type role, we knew we needed a player like him.

“He’d been a part of pennant races. He’d been a part of winning teams. He was someone we wanted to plug into this environment.”

It was the Royals who pushed for a two-year deal.

“We were given a choice of a one-year deal or a two-year deal,” Moore said. “We wanted to give Willie a two-year deal because we wanted him to be here. We didn’t want him, in July 2009, to be wondering where he was going to be in 2010. “We were asking him to commit to us, so we committed to him. It’s a two-way street. He’s one of those guys who every winning team has. Every winning team has someone like Willie Bloomquist.”

Greinke up next

Zack Greinke looks to continue his remarkable run when he pitches Saturday against Angels lefty Joe Saunders at 8:05 p.m. Central time.

Greinke is looking to become baseball’s first seven-game winner this season and extend his winning streak to 10 straight starts over two years. The club record for consecutive winning decisions is 11 by Rich Gale from June 17-Aug. 23, 1980.

Oddly, Greinke has never started against the Angels in Anaheim. His only previous career appearance at Angel Stadium was 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief on June 26, 2007, when he followed Gil Meche in a 12-4 victory.

Greinke is 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA overall in four career appearances against the Angels, but that victory came last year in his only appearance _ May 7, when he allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings in a 9-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

Milkman in action

Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz wore out the phrase “utterly ridiculous” in characterizing his decision to participate in a pre-game, cow-milking contest against Angels reliever Rafael Rodriguez. And, yes, it did seem a strange promotion here in the shadow of Disneyland.

But Kuntz, who was born in nearby Orange, Calif., was a natural choice after revealing he was 2-0 in previous cow-milking contests as a player in the early 1980s for the White Sox and Tigers.

“You’ve got to stimulate the utters,” he explained while rolling his wrists in a pre-contest interview. “Then you’ve got to grab and squeeze.”

Well, maybe. But Kuntz lost when the judge weighed the two milk buckets a second time _ after some of Rodriguez’s teammates, real guardian angels, added something to his bucket.

Hochevar stays locked in

Right-hander Luke Hochevar continued his push for a recall to the big leagues Thursday night by working eight shutout innings in Class AAA Omaha’s 3-2 loss to Memphis in 10 innings.

Hochevar settled for a no-decision when the bullpen failed to hold a 2-0 lead in the ninth. He allowed just five hits, all singles, while striking out nine and walking none in a 97-pitch effort that included 75 strikes.

Hochevar lowered his ERA to 0.90 and has not allowed a run in his last 21 innings. Minor details

Right-hander Dan Cortes, the organization’s 2008 minor-league pitcher of the year, offered his best start of the year Thursday after a dismal run of outings. He allowed just one run and five hits in six innings in Class AA Northwest Arkansas’ 3-2 victory at Springfield.

Cortes struck out eight but didn’t get the victory. So he remains 0-4, but his ERA dropped from 7.94 to 5.02.

Looking back

It was two years ago Saturday _ May 9, 2007 _ that Mike Sweeney hit his 194th career homer with the Royals and moved past Amos Otis into second place on the club’s all-time list.

Sweeney’s homer was a two-out blast in the eighth inning against Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer that provided the winning margin in a 3-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium. Sweeney’s 197 homers with the Royals trail only George Brett’s 317 in franchise history.

Etc.

• The Royals (3.71) and Angels (3.76) entered the weekend ranked first and second among American League teams in earned-run average for their starting pitchers.



• The Royals also entered the game with the majors’ best overall ERA at 3.53. The Cardinals, at 3.77, ranked second overall and led the National League.



• Birthday wishes to Royals’ Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Leonard, who turned 58 on Friday. Leonard was 144-106 from 1974-86 in a 12-year career spent entirely with the Royals. He was inducted in 1989 into the club’s Hall of Fame.



• The Royals began the series with a 6-1 record in May. They haven’t had a winning May since going 14-12 in 2000. The best May in franchise history was 20-10 in 1976. They were 10-19 in May 2008.



To reach Bob Dutton, send e-mail to bdutton@kcstar.com.

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