Notes: Royals want to keep bats hot
With a healthy Sweeney, club second in batting in Arizona
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Royals hitting coach Mike Barnett said there are three phases of Spring Training for batters."The first 10 games are all about timing, getting guys back to seeing velocity and seeing some pitching," Barnett said. "You don't do a lot of harping on a lot of stuff. Then probably the second 10 games you're just trying to get locked in and get your approach down. The third 10 games, you're getting ready for April 2nd." The Kansas City bats appear ready for Monday, the season opener against the Red Sox, hitting .304 and averaging 5.96 runs in 27 Spring Training games in Arizona. Only the Rangers had a higher average in the American League. The lineup appears to be the most formidable since the Royals' 2000 lineup, which included Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon and Joe Randa, and set team records with a .288 batting average and 879 runs. Sweeney, a career .304 hitter, is the lone holdover from that group. In order to keep him healthy, the Royals limited Sweeney to 14 games and 43 at-bats in Arizona. Sweeney hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning in Thursday's 7-5 victory over the Rangers and has two home runs, two doubles and five RBIs in his past three games. "A healthy Mike is really important to us, hitting in the middle of the lineup and making everybody better," manager Buddy Bell said. "We forget he didn't play the first week of Spring Training. Now is about the time we expected that he'd be swinging the bat good and he has been. That's a good sign." While Sweeney, a five-time All-Star, is a proven hitter, the heart of the Royals batting order will include rising-star youngsters such as rookie Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, Ryan Shealy and David DeJesus. "There are not a lot of household names, but I think before long people are going to have a pretty good idea who these guys are," Barnett said. "It's a fun lineup." Gordon, who hit .345 in Arizona, spent only one year in the Minors, hitting .325 with 29 home runs and 101 RBIs with Double-A Wichita. "He does everything you like to see in a hitter," Barnett said. "He uses the whole field. He's got power to all fields. He does a good job of getting good pitches to hit. I think with a lot of guys, sometimes they have to have more at-bats in the Minor Leagues. With him, he's got a real good feel. He hits the ball where it is pitched. To me he is going to have an easier time adjusting than any other guy. The biggest thing with him is seeing that type of big league pitching day in and day out and learning the league."
Braun blossoms: Rookie Ryan Braun learned he made the roster on Wednesday and pitched a flawless inning on Thursday. He lowered his ERA to 0.93 in 9 2/3 spring innings."I found out in batting practice," Braun said. "[Bell] helped me shag fly balls for awhile. He created an awkward silence and then chuckled and told me, 'Congratulations, you're on the team.' It still felt like the last minute. I was looking forward to an answer for awhile after a month of preparation, but never knowing." Braun said he never considered his odds for making the club. "If that thought comes up, you become aware of it and dismiss it right away because it is not going to help you out," Braun said. Elarton's schedule: Scott Elarton said he felt "wonderful" on Thursday with no soreness after throwing 20 pitches in a Minor League game on Wednesday. It was Elarton's first game action since shoulder surgery last Aug. 1. He is scheduled to throw 30 pitches Sunday in another Minor League game and will return to Kansas City to be with the team for the initial homestand. He will throw a simulated game on April 6 at Kauffman Stadium and return to Surprise on April 11 for an extended spring game. If all goes well, Elarton would pitch on April 16 for Triple-A Omaha, beginning a Minor League rehab assignment not to exceed 30 days. He could be in the Kansas City rotation by mid-May. "Definitely, I'm ahead of where they thought I'd be," Elarton said. Gonzalez released: Infielder Alex Gonzalez opted to become a free agent and was released by the Royals. Gonzalez, a 12-year Major League veteran, had an out in his contract which would allow him to become a free agent if he was not on the Royals Major League roster as of Thursday. On deck: Right-hander Zack Greinke is scheduled to start against the Astros on Friday at 7:05 p.m. CT at Minute Maid Park. Houston will counter with veteran right-hander Woody Williams.
Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.