Zobrist big piece of winning puzzle for Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Ben Zobrist has been a perfect fit for the Royals in part by being nothing like them.
"He's the only one on this team that has discipline, that's for sure, on and off the field," said first baseman Eric Hosmer, smiling.
The Royals are far peskier than they are patient, but there's no questioning the strides they made to better themselves offensively by adding the switch-hitting Zobrist to their lineup at the cost of two pitching prospects in a July deal with the A's.
The on-base engine that is Zobrist reached base at a .364 clip following his move to Kansas City, also surprising with power and christening his tenure as a Royal with a home run from each side of the plate in a matchup against Toronto on July 30.
Zobrist has blurred memories of that day, but only because his teammates tossed water into his eyes as something of a welcome gift. He does, though, recall sensing a heightened confidence from the opposition, the Blue Jays having just dealt for David Price and Troy Tulowitzki.
Zobrist, 34, doesn't share in their star power, but he's been just as much of a difference-maker for these Royals, who will engage in a rematch with the Blue Jays beginning on Friday at Kauffman Stadium in Game 1 of a best-of-seven American League Championship Series (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX/Sportsnet).
"He's the only patient hitter we have on the team," center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "We have a lot of aggressive hitters, so he kind of changes it up a little bit, adds a different dynamic to our lineup. He actually takes pitches and works the count. He's been a huge addition to this team."
For much of the second half, there was a case to be made that Zobrist, not starter Johnny Cueto, was the biggest difference-maker for this club post-non waiver Trade Deadline, what with his perpetual ability to put together a tough at-bat and get on base at a consistent rate with a steady, workmanlike approach.
Cueto, of course, reminded fans and teammates of what he can do in a dazzling eight-inning performance against the Astros in Wednesday's AL Division Series-clinching Game 5 victory.
Zobrist had his hand in all five games, finishing 6-for-18 with a pair of walks. Not until Wednesday in his second at-bat against Collin McHugh did Zobrist swing at a pitch that didn't result in contact.
The Royals totaled just 383 walks during the regular season, ranking last in the AL. A count of 29 came from Zobrist, who hit .284 with seven home runs in 59 regular-season games following his trade from Oakland.
With Zobrist, the Royals had exactly what they needed, a versatile defender that doubled as a veteran presence not only at the plate, but in the clubhouse. And after filling in for an injured Alex Gordon in left field at the onset, Zobrist has found a home at second base -- the position he's most frequented during his 10-year career -- in the wake of Omar Infante's back injury.
"It's been a perfect fit, and it's been a lot of fun just to kind of assimilate into this culture and the team, and I feel like I fit really well here," Zobrist said. "With Gordon being injured when I came over here and me being able to fill in that spot, and now with Omar being injured, it just kind of has made my position more valuable to this team, and it helps me feel like, 'OK, I'm not taking anyone's spot right now, I just get to do what I can for the team.'"
Zobrist particularly likes batting from the No. 2 hole, where he's a career .272 hitter.
"He's been setting up runs for our big guys, our 3, 4, 5, 6 guys," manager Ned Yost said. "With Omar going down, he's filled in at second base great. And his offense has been key from both sides of the plate for us."
"He handles business the right way and continues to contribute and show up in big ways," Hosmer said. "He's been hitting for us since Day 1. He's as professional as they come, he really is, and you can tell by the way he prepares and all the work that goes in to playing every single day he puts in. You know you're not going to ever see him go up there and swing at the first pitch that's a bad pitch."