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Royals notebook | Hillman seeks to tighten focus after series of base-running errors

A growing series of base-running gaffes prompted an on-field review Friday by manager Trey Hillman prior to the start of the club’s regular pre-game batting practice.

The Royals gathered around Hillman, who delivered an animated assessment near first base, after the club’s regular once-a-homestand session of pitchers’ fielding practice.

“We’ve made some costly base-running mistakes that we can’t afford to make,” he said. “So we made sure we covered those collectively. They’re always covered individually, but we made sure we covered them with the whole group.”

The Royals ran themselves into double plays in the first two innings of Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the White Sox by breaking too far from first base on routine fly balls to the outfield.

Hillman said those mistakes left him “as disappointed as any manager who’s not putting wins on the board. Because that’s my job. You want me to put it on a 1-10 scale? I’ll put it at a 10 because it affects how we play baseball games and how we’re perceived as a major-league club.

“Mistakes don’t need to be repetitive in back-to-back innings. Hopefully, they never happen, but when you make base-running mistakes, you correct them and move on.”

Hillman parried a question asking whether the mistakes indicated a greater malaise setting in on a club that entered Friday with just 15 victories in its last 49 games.

“Base-running mistakes like that,” he said, “are indicative of any problem that keeps you from winning a ballgame. It’s all part of it. It all turns into a negative in the offensive flow of an inning.

“When you’re challenged to score runs at the rate we’ve been challenged to score runs this season, it has an effect.”

International signings

The Royals confirmed the signings of two 16-year-old prospects from Latin America in the international signing period: third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert of Nicaragua and catcher Luis Villegas of Venezuela.

The international signing period began Thursday for players not subject to the first-year player draft.

Cuthbert, at 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, is believed to have received a signing bonus in excess of $1.2 million.

“We think he’s going to be a special player,” said Rene Francisco, who heads the organization’s international operations. “He’s going to play a solid third base and hit and hit with power.

“He has to finish high school in Nicaragua. From there, he’ll go to the Instructional League (in September).”

Francisco cited part-time scout Juan Lopez and Latin America scouting supervisor Orlando Estevez as instrumental in the club’s ability to sign Cuthbert.

Villegas is 5-10 and 170 and projects as a line-drive hitter. He will report immediately to the organization’s year-round complex in the Dominican Republic. Lineup change

Willie Bloomquist was a late scratch as the starting third baseman when he left the ballpark to attend to a family emergency.

When Hillman opted to stick with plans to rest regular third baseman Mark Teahen, the starting lineup included Tony Peña and Luis Hernandez for the first time.

Hillmans said Teahen should return today to the lineup.

“I could have forced the issue (Friday),” Hillman said, “but I was afraid that we’d go farther backward. We’ve had our share of going backward with injuries. He’s just a little sore, a little banged up.”

Bloomquist’s status for today’s game is uncertain.

Updating Buck

Rehabbing catcher John Buck could return to active duty as soon as today if he experiences no problems in his recovery from a herniated disk after catching successive games at Class AAA Omaha.

“We’ll evaluate it after he does nine (Friday),” Hillman said, “and take a look at our roster and make decisions that are appropriate.”

Buck caught the first nine innings Friday for the O-Royals, whose game against New Orleans was suspended as a 2-2 tie because of rain after 10 innings. He caught all nine innings Thursday in a 4-2 victory over New Orleans.

Buck has seven hits, including two homers, in 27 at-bats in seven games at Omaha. He suffered the herniated disk on May 30 against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.

“No setbacks at all,” Hillman said. “He’s doing real well. No pain. Nothing is bothering him in his lower back. He seems to be in pretty good shape.”

•Third baseman Alex Gordon continued his rehab playing assignment by going one for three with two walks for the O-Royals. He is scheduled to report today to Class AA Northwest Arkansas to continue his recovery from hip surgery.



•Right-handed reliever Doug Waechter is scheduled to begin his rehab playing assignment tonight for Omaha at Oklahoma City. Waechter has been out since April 18 because of a strained right elbow and a strained left oblique.



Early start

A reminder: Today’s game starts at 12:10 p.m. -- not the usual Saturday times of 1:10 p.m. or 6:10 p.m. The change was made to accommodate local television rights in both markets by avoiding the exclusive afternoon window that Fox enjoys through its contract with Major League Baseball.

Minor details

Lefty Danny Duffy had his second straight rough outing since his selection to the All-Star Futures Game when he allowed five runs and five walks in 3 1/3 innings Thursday in Class A Wilmington’s 6-1 loss to Kinston.

Duffy surrendered six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings to Potomac in his previous start. The two poor outings spiked his ERA from 2.85 to 3.86. Duffy, 20, was the Royals’ third-round pick in the 2007 draft

Looking back

It was 10 years ago today -- July 4, 1999 -- that Mike Sweeney extended his club record by driving in a run for the 13th straight game in a 10-9 victory at Cleveland.

Sweeney batted .442 in that 13-game stretch with four homers and 19 RBIs. His 13-game RBI streak was the longest in the American League since a 14-game run by Tris Speaker in 1928 for the Philadelphia A’s.

Etc.

•The crowd of 39,026 marked the Royals’ eighth sellout of the year. They are 2-6 in those games. The crowd was the largest of the season and, therefore, the largest in Kauffman Stadium’s renovated configuration.



•The Royals’ 60 errors are tied with Seattle for the most in the American League.



•Zack Greinke’s six strikeouts boosted his season count to 120, which ties Kevin Appier for the second-highest total in club history before the All-Star Game. Appier had 120 in 1995. The club record is 133 by Dennis Leonard in 1977. Greinke figures to get one more start before the break.



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

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