Royals head home hoping for different start in '13
Associated Press , DAVE SKRETTA
1:35 PM, Apr 7, 2013
6:49 AM, Apr 8, 2013
With a bunch of wide-eyed but talented young players, the Kansas City Royals returned home from a brief road trip to start last season overflowing with confidence, fully believing that the team's slogan of "Our Time" was apropos.
Their 10-game homestand turned out to be a flop, and that slogan a punch line.
The Royals didn't win once -- not a single home win -- and rarely even led during a nightmare that ultimately doomed their season: Three straight losses to Cleveland, three to Detroit and, the coup de grace, four straight to Toronto before they finally limped back onto the road.
They're intent to prevent that from happening again when the Royals open a six-game homestand against the Twins and Blue Jays on Monday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
The biggest reason Kansas City couldn't stop the bleeding last year was its pitching, which surrendered at least eight runs four times during that 10-game downer.
So when the season mercifully ended, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was quick to make aggressive moves to upgrade the staff. He re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, traded with the Angels for Ervin Santana and then sent some of the Royals' top prospects, including minor league player of the year Wil Myers, to Tampa Bay to net starting pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.
"We were solid defensively. We were solid in the `pen. We did a lot of things right," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "The place we were lacking was the starting pitching, where we didn't have a guy coming at you every day."
At least early on, it appears the upgrades are paying off.
Shields allowed only a solo homer in a 1-0 loss to Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on opening day, and Santana went six promising innings two days later. Guthrie finally gave Kansas City its first win the next day, allowing a run on five hits in six innings in a 3-1 victory.
One of the byproducts of all the new pitchers is that old standbys have been relegated to the bullpen. Former No. 1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar, who could never get things sorted out in rotation, has shown promise as a fireball-throwing reliever, and left-hander Bruce Chen has shown to be the perfect long relief pitcher after leading the team in wins the past three years.
So when Davis was battered for four runs in four innings Friday night in Philadelphia, Chen came in and stopped the carnage. The rest of the Royals' bullpen, one of the best in the majors last season, held the Phillies off the scoreboard the final four innings to snatch the win.
Hochever pitched a perfect ninth in a non-save situation.
"Say we get into a slump offensively, which is going to happen more than once, as a team, you get the idea we can still win a game 2-1, and in the past that's not something we've necessarily been able to do," right field Jeff Francoeur said.
"And I think stopping losing streaks, someone who can throw seven, eight innings, throw a gem," he added. "One of those guys is going to throw a good game, and that's the key to winning a lot."
Winning a lot is certainly something that hasn't happened in Kansas City in a while.
The Royals have endured nine consecutive losing seasons, which means nine players on the 25-man roster weren't even out of high school the last time the team tasted success.
Even then, it was a mediocre 83-79 record. Kansas City hasn't been back to the postseason since winning it all in 1985 with guys like George Brett and Bret Saberhagen.
With their pitching seemingly solidified, the Royals are perfectly content to roll with what remains one of the youngest lineups in baseball. And after a scuffling start in Chicago, they got on track by pounding out 13 runs in a series opener against the Phillies.
Now, they head home expecting far different results from a year ago.
"You rely on experience, and experience is a good thing, but I like youthful experience, because sometimes experience gets in the way," Moore said. "You want to have that innocence, right? That innocence that you can do it when nobody else thinks you can.
"I think we have a good blend of experience and youth," Moore said.