The shift to the outfield hasn’t taken anything away from Hunter Dozier’s bat. The Royals certainly appreciate that considering Dozier reached the 20-homer plateau for the first time in his career with two home runs on Thursday night, his second multi-homer game in a week.
Since July 27, Dozier has started eight games in right field and shifted from third base to the outfield in the middle of two other games. He’ll start his ninth game in right field against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Saturday night.
Dozier, a former first-round draft pick, has established himself this season as a legitimate middle-of-the-order power hitter. His 20 homers have come in 95 games, and he entered the weekend ranked 10th in the American League in both slugging percentage (.535) and OPS (.899).
As far as what position the club feels as though Dozier’s should focus on moving forward, Dozier said those conversations haven’t taken place.
“I’m sure we’ll talk at the end of the season,” Dozier said. “They really haven’t said much to me. Whatever they need me to do, I’m totally on board with. Like I’ve always said, I just want to be in the lineup and wherever I need to play, I’ll play.
“Cheslor is doing a heck of a job (at third base). With us getting (Ryan) O’Hearn back, he needs to be in the lineup too. So I have no problem playing right.”
Dozier playing right field allows Cuthbert to play third more often instead of first base, and O’Hearn can play first base with Cuthbert on the other corner.
Dozier’s major-league debut came as a right fielder in 2016, but he’d made just two appearances in right field in the majors since that season. This summer, he was one of three American League finalists to start the All-Star Game at third base.
Dozier had an extensive pre-game routine prior to batting practice that included drills as well as ground balls, said he now lets whatever position he’s playing that day decide his pre-game routine. Of course, he won’t allow himself to go too many days without taking grounders even if he’s in the lineup for a week straight in the outfield.
He continues to get more comfortable in the outfield the more he plays there. He’s hoping to take a page from Royals six-time Gold Glove winning left fielder Alex Gordon to help with his adjustment to the outfield.
“I think the best thing you can do is shag during BP and go make it as game-like as you can because that’s the most realistic thing you can do besides a game,” Dozier said. “That’s why Gordo is so good out there, because he shags 100 percent and gets after it every day out there when we do take BP. That’s something I’m trying to do and trying to get a lot of reps in.”
Royals manager Ned Yost said Dozier won’t play any other spot in the outfield besides right field this season.
“It’s gone really good, maybe a little better than I expected,” Yost said. “I expected him to be okay. He’s been really out there. I’m very comforted with the fact that when I write him into right field, we’re going to be okay. It’s not going to be an adventure out there for him like it has been for some players.
“You look at some players that have moved out there in the league, and it has been a tough adjustment for them. But he’s very athletic. He seems to handle it well.”
All of the Royals players have/will wear black MLB Players Association T-shirts during warm-ups and batting practice for the entire series in Detroit.
Royals All-Star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield said the gesture was done in recognition, support and appreciation of the players who went on strike during the 1994 season. Merrifield said the players recognize how much players now have because of those players being willing to go on strike 25 years ago.
The 1994 strike started on Aug. 12 and continued for 232 days and included the cancellation of the World Series for the first time since 1904. At the time, that work stoppage was the longest in American professional sports.
Saturday night’s game serves as the 25th Annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game for the Tigers. Both teams will wear Negro Leagues tribute uniforms representing the Detroit Stars and Kansas City Monarchs.