It had been a dreadful final Saturday in May for the Royals, but first-base coach Mitch Maier saw a teaching moment present itself.
The Royals were been swept by the Yankees in a doubleheader, and in the nightcap, outfielder Terrance Gore had a forgettable game. In his first start in more than two weeks, Gore didn’t reach base in four plate appearances and committed an error in center field.
The following day, Maier sought out Gore with a message: manage your expectations as a spot starter.
“It’s knowing your role. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I’m going to go three hits today.’ That’s kind of the wrong mentality,” Maier recalled. “You need to have a productive day: play good defense, get on base, do your thing, and when you’re at bat, give the team an opportunity to be successful, whether you walk, whether you move a runner over, whether you’re getting a hit.
“It’s not go up and swing and expect that after two weeks that you’re going to be locked in on major-league pitching. It doesn’t matter what player you are, put him on the bench for two weeks and tell him to go hit, it’s not easy.”
That’s something former Royal Willie Bloomquist passed down to Maier, who played parts of six seasons in Kansas City from 2006-12. And now Maier is making sure Gore understands what’s expected of a reserve outfielder.
Gore, who turned 28 on Saturday, has spent early and late portions of five big-league seasons with the Royals or Cubs, often as a pinch runner. He rarely, if ever, started. This is the longest stint he’s had on a major-league roster, and it’s been an adjustment.
In years past, he’s usually joined the Royals before or after his minor-league season has ended. In the minors, he’s never had fewer than 200 plate appearances in a season. But he’s played in just 25 of the Royals’ 65 games this year with 39 plate appearances and nine starts.
“It’s a lot of pressure on me because I know here’s my chance, I don’t want to blow it,” Gore said of starting. “It’s tough. It gets in your head because you know you finally get your chance out there and you don’t want to mess up. But you don’t want to not be doing anything either. It’s your time to shine, so shine.”
After going hitless in his first 12 major-league at-bats over five seasons, Gore singled in a game last September for the Cubs, who acquired Gore in a trade with the Royals. Gore signed back with the Royals in the offseason, and this year he’s batting .297 (11 for 37) with seven runs scored, a double, triple and six stolen bases.
However, he’s also been caught stealing a league-high five times, including multiple pickoffs while pinch running.
“I’ve just got to be smarter, which I should be,” Gore said. “Sometimes I get so antsy and aggressive because I haven’t been out there in a while, and I’m trying to force something that’s almost impossible to be forced. But I try it anyway, because I think I’m Superman or something.”
Gore chuckled while making the superhero comparison, then reiterated the need for restraint.
“The pitcher can be a freakin’ 1 (second) flat to the plate and I’m still trying to go,” Gore said. “Nobody is ever going to steal on this guy, but of course I’m going to try because I’m stubborn and hard-headed.”
Since the talk with Maier, Gore has done some of those little things. He was successful in his most recent steal attempt (May 29 at White Sox). In his last two starts, Gore had a bunt single and walked.
That didn’t get Gore on the highlight shows, but it was noticed by his coach. Maier has impressed upon Gore the lessons learned from Bloomquist, who spent two seasons of his 14-year big-league career with the Royals.
That means doing things other than hitting during batting practice: honing bunting skills and shagging flies in all three outfield spots.
“If you just mosey through those five days prior to starting and now you’re expecting to turn the switch on, it’s not how it works,” Maier said. “Willie kind of taught me the way with that and Terrance is in a similar spot.”