Notes: Royals like Smith's versatility
Infielder can play several positions, offer occasional power
CLEVELAND -- Infielder Jason Smith thought he just had bad gas pains. He clutched his stomach.
Smith was at home in mid-May at Meridian, Miss. It was bad enough that he'd been placed on waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks and sent packing while they were in Pittsburgh.
"At first, I thought I was just hungry," he said. "I ate and it didn't go away."
His wife, Charlotte, finally took Smith to a hospital emergency room. The conclusion? He had an inflamed appendix which had to come out. Surgery was performed, the Diamondbacks had to withdraw him from waivers and he was out for a month.
Finally, Smith began a rehabilitation stint in the Minor Leagues and hit a combined .333 (21-for-63) for Class A Visalia and Triple-A Tucson. But the D-Backs had no place for him, and again he went on waivers.
This time, during the All-Star break, he was claimed by the Royals. He made his debut Friday night as a pinch-runner and scored against Cleveland. On Sunday, he made his first start, at shortstop, against the Indians.
Smith, who'll turn 30 on July 24, was obtained by the Royals for his versatility and his ability to be a solid backup at shortstop for Tony Pena Jr. To make room for Smith, reserve infielder Fernando Cortez has returned to Triple-A Omaha.
"I played shortstop at Tucson every day, so I got comfortable there," Smith said.
In his 196 Major League games, he's played most often at shortstop but also has experience at the three other spots.
"We'd been talking about him for a while," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "I liked him when he played at Detroit, what, a couple of years ago? I liked his ability to hit a fastball and his ability to play multiple positions. I liked Cortez, too, but this guy may have more pop."
Smith's personal highlights at bat came in the form of two-homer games -- once with Detroit and again with Colorado. On April 9, 2006, at San Diego, he connected against the Padres' Jake Peavy and Chan Ho Park in the Rockies' 10-4 victory. On July 9, 2004, at Minnesota, he drilled two homers off the Twins' Carlos Silva in the Tigers' 5-3 win.
"I have occasional power, but I'm not a power hitter," Smith said.
A left-handed batter, Smith came to the Royals with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs in 438 big-league at-bats.
Thomson headed for DL: Pitcher John Thomson, who was scheduled to start Tuesday night at Boston, will be placed on the disabled list on because of back problems, Bell said Sunday.
"We're trying to decide right now who will pitch. I'm waiting for a phone call," Bell said.
Scott Elarton, whom Thomson replaced on the roster, is not a possibility because he just pitched Friday night in a rehab starter for Omaha. Leaning on a callup from the Minors is a possibility.
"We can't use anybody from the bullpen because nobody is stretched out enough," Bell said.
Bell considered a quiltwork of relievers to pitch the game but wasn't sold on that.
"In Fenway Park, that's probably not a good idea," he said.
Bell said that Thomson, who has made two starts, has been bothered by back stiffness for the last couple of days. He could go on the 15-day disabled list and be backdated for 10 days so he would not have to miss that much time.
Man in the middle: Billy Butler was in the No. 4 spot in the Royals' lineup for the second straight game Sunday, and it sounds as if he might be there for a while.
"It'll be nice to keep him in the middle of the lineup and see what he can do there," Bell said. "He can do a lot of different things for you -- hit the ball out of the park, take the ball the other way."
With Mike Sweeney out of the lineup, Bell has tried others in the cleanup spot, including Emil Brown, Ross Gload and even now-departed Shane Costa. On Saturday night, Butler delivered a two-run, opposite-field double and two singles in the Royals' 6-5 victory.
In fact, the middle of the lineup -- Mark Teahen, Butler and Brown -- combined to go 8-for-15 with five runs, five RBIs and a homer (Brown's three-run shot).
Doubling up: Teahen, after raking two doubles and a single off the Indians' C.C. Sabathia on Saturday night, had a thought.
"I might have doubled my career total against Sabathia," he said.
That's exactly what he did. Previously in his career, Teahen was just 3-for-18 against Sabathia. Now his average is a healthier .273 (6-for-22).
A bully bullpen: The relief corps is rapidly gaining notice as the strongest element for the improving Royals.
"The way I look at it is they're one of the best 'pens in the American League," said Gil Meche, who was rescued Saturday night.
Actually, in games prior to Sunday, the Royals' bullpen ranked eighth in the AL with a 3.90 ERA, just behind the Los Angeles Angels. The Boston Red Sox were first, by far, with a 2.77 ERA.
The Royals' relievers had a cumulative 13-14 record and 25 saves in 37 opportunities.
From June 24 through Saturday, when the Royals had a 10-5 record, the bullpen had a 1.78 ERA with a 3-2 record and was 5-for-7 in save opportunities. The relievers held opponents to a .197 average and piled up 58 strikeouts in 50 2/3 inning during the stretch.
Royals rundown: Mike Aviles' 15th-inning RBI single gave Triple-A Omaha a 5-4 victory over Iowa on Saturday. Craig Brazell hit his 24th homer of the season for Omaha and his Minor League-leading 31st. ... Mike Stodolka hit his 10th homer among three hits in Double-A Wichita's 8-2 win over Springfield. ... Rowdy Hardy gave up five runs in five innings but took a no-decision as Class A Wilmington lost to Potomac, 7-6. ... Chris Hayes earned his seventh save with a scoreless 11th as Class A Burlington, Iowa, defeated Great Lakes, 6-5. ... Idaho Falls, the rookie advanced team, stood 17-7 after routing Missoula, 10-1. Winner Burke Baldwin pitched five innings of four-hit ball. ... Jose Santos hit a grand slam in rookie Burlington, N.C.'s 8-4 win over Elizabethton ... Rehabbing Justin Huber had a three-run homer among four hits and knocked in five runs as the rookie Royals downed the A's, 11-3, in Arizona. His homer came in an eight-run 10th inning.
Coming up: The Royals move to Boston for a 6:05 p.m. CT game Monday night. Right-hander Brian Bannister (5-5, 3.71 ERA) will be matched against Red Sox lefty Kason Gabbard (2-0, 4.87 ERA).
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.