Hillman's charges ready for test
Royals figure to be more creative under first-year manager
DETROIT -- Welcome to the big leagues, Trey Hillman. All you have to do is direct your Kansas City Royals against the saber-toothed Detroit Tigers, the snarling big cats of Major League Baseball.
"We start off with a bang, don't we?" Hillman said with a laugh.
"Yeah, we do. We start off with a bang but, you know what, it's a good measuring tool for us early on. And it's challenging to do it in the cold weather. So we'll find out what we're holding onto here pretty quick."
Perhaps holding onto a Tiger by the tale of the tape that measures home run clouts by Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen. Whew, when you've got Pudge Rodriguez and Jacque Jones batting eighth and ninth, you've got trouble with a capital T.
This is Hillman's MLB debut after five years of turning things around for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan.
"There are no jitters today, but there will be tomorrow. If I didn't have jitters, I don't think I would have been deserving of the job. There'll be more excitement than there are anxieties and worries. I'm excited about having the opportunity to do this," Hillman said at Sunday's workout.
"It's my managerial debut here in the United States and I can't run away from that fact, but I really want it be about Opening Day 2008 for the Kansas City Royals. These guys have done some great things in Spring Training and they'll try to carry it into the season.
If Spring Training was an indicator, the Royals figure to do more creative things to conjure the runs that proved so difficult to score last year. Trey Ball has a lot of small ball attached to it.
Hillman had a discussion the other day with Alex Gordon, his No. 3 hitter, about getting in on the hit-and-run.
"You can see we don't have the most power in the league but we're going to do the little stuff, and I don't think it matters who does it," Gordon said. "I'm willing to do it. If it's on, I'm more than happy to do it."
"It's going to be game by game. If we're not hitting the ball extremely well, we're going to have to do the little things like hit-and-run or bunt. If we're swinging well ... every game is going to be different."
Cactus League games were rife with base thievery -- the Royals had 34 stolen bases, including 12 by Joey Gathright -- and bunt attempts for base hits.
Of course the Royals have some good old-fashioned power, too, thanks to the amnesty granted to Jose Guillen. His 15-day suspension, which could have kept him out of the Opening Day lineup, has been put on hold for 10 days.
"Obviously we're better with Guillen in the lineup and we've got a better staff, I think, our starters are pretty solid and we've got a shot to win every day. And a lot of teams can't say that." veteran Mark Grudzielanek said.
"We've got to utilize our speed, we've got a lot of guys that are above-average runners on this team and we're a young team, so we've got to show them and play the game the right way."
A major part of Hillman's approach has been face-to-face talk with players with some group sessions thrown in.
"I think communication-wise and with players understanding their roles and things like that, we're in a better position as far as between the ears with everybody," Grudzielanek said. "We're in a good state of mind to go out there and be successful."
Those close to Hillman advise that he's capable of doing the unexpected, thinking outside the box and wiggling when opponents might expect a jiggle instead.
But Hillman claims he has nothing special in the works for the Tigers.
"I don't have any surprises. I don't have any trick plays. I'm not a trick master," Hillman said. "I'm just going to look for opportunities every possible inning to create some production off a very, very good starting pitcher."
Oh, yeah, that Justin Verlander guy.
The first batter to face Verlander will be David DeJesus, whose twisted right ankle is much better and will allow him to be in center field.
"It's like 95 percent," DeJesus said. "It's good to go."
So, apparently, is reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta, the right-handed setup man who was drilled in the right leg Friday night at Milwaukee.
So Hillman makes his debut with his club in a healthy state. Now he just has to figure out how to mold his players into winners.
"I think I have to be ready to adjust daily. The job I need to do is manage to the strengths of our club. I've asked these guys to do some things differently than they've done in the recent past and they've done that with a good attitude and they've been very unselfish toward one another," he said.
"Today I told them, 'Men, if I'm missing any pieces, please feel free to come and tell me,' because I want to be as good as I can for their benefit every day and I'm going to have to adjust every day, depending on what the situation is."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.