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Moose hoping winter work produces hot bat

Royals third baseman, hitting coach formulate hitting plan for 2014

KANSAS CITY -- No doubt about it -- Mike Moustakas is lean. Now the question is, will his bat be mean?

Moose thinks so. His trimmer physique coupled with a productive winter session in Venezuela have him revved up for a lighter and brighter 2014.

Moustakas insists he rarely steps on a scale, but figures he's lost 10 pounds or so. When he appeared at last weekend's Royals FanFest in Kansas City, he was noticeably slimmer. Moustakas spent a lot of time in the gym and was careful with his diet with, no doubt, some help from his new bride, Stephanie.

"I feel a lot lighter on my feet, I feel great when I'm moving around so I'm a lot more agile right now. So I feel good," Moustakas said.

Pedro Grifol, who came in with George Brett as the Royals' new hitting coaches last May 30 and then took over the job full-time, was managing the Lara Cardinals in the Venezuelan League. So Moustakas decided to take advantage and join Grifol for part of the winter season.

"I got in some quality work with Pedro. I hit about 300 swings every day before the game," Moustakas said. "I was just working on certain things, different situations, things with my swing, pitch selection. All sorts of stuff we were able to get done out there as opposed to going into Spring Training and having to start from ground zero. I was able to get a little bit of a jump on everything."

Moustakas, in fact, is already in Arizona doing some early work with Grifol and other early arrivals. Officially, the camp at Surprise doesn't open until Friday, Feb. 14 when pitchers and catchers report. The position players aren't due until Feb. 19. But informal early starts have become the norm in recent years.

Coming off a lackluster third season with the Royals, Moustakas is eager to make amends. The team made a push for an American League Wild Card spot but fell short.

"We wanted to make the playoffs and we wanted to make a run at the World Series, but we didn't get there as a team. So, successful, yes, but not as successful as we had hoped," Moustakas said. "I wish I'd have played a little better because, who knows? Had I played better earlier in the year, we could've done something a little different."

Moustakas hit just .215 before the All-Star break. He revived to .301 in August, but still finished at just .233 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs after having 20 and 73 the year before.

As Grifol and Moustakas focused on change, they decided to get away from the left-handed hitter's inclination to pull everything to right field.

"That's how I got myself in trouble last year -- trying to pull everything," Moustakas said. "And Pedro told me that's not going to work anymore, we're going to do damage up the middle."

So Moustakas concentrated on making solid contact and driving pitches up the middle or to left-center field, staying content with pulling the ball only on inside deliveries.

"Now, I just want to get out in Spring Training and work this approach against Major League pitchers," he said.

In a total of 17 games in Venezuela, Moustakas' average was .288 and eight of his 19 hits were doubles. He knocked in 17 runs.

"I didn't pull the ball hardly at all. I was working the middle of the field," he said.

Last summer, left-handed pitchers gave Moustakas fits, holding him to a .196 average. But he got a lot of action against lefties in Venezuela.

"They have like an 18-man bullpen or 15-man bullpen and all you do is face lefties after the third or fourth innings -- I mean, it's just matchups the whole game," Moustakas said.

Moustakas enjoyed his time in Venezuela, getting to play against teammate Salvador Perez, who did little catching and played mostly at first base. How is Perez at first?

"Ah-h-h-e-e-e-ah. ... I wouldn't say he'd be winning a Gold Glove [Award] or anything," Moustakas said, grinning. "It's amazing, for as good a defensive catcher that he is and how amazing he can catch popups and make plays out there, he can't catch a popup at first base to save his life. It's crazy. He looked pretty good, he doesn't play over there too much. I got over there at first and he's pulling my jersey out and pushing me off the base. I'm like, 'Dude, this is a game!' And he says, 'No, this is how we play it, Papi.'"

All in all, the Venezuelan experience was eye-opening for Moustakas.

"It was amazing -- 5,000 people out there sound like 25,000," he said. "You hit a single in the first inning and you almost won the World Series. It was crazy. Any time you hit a home run, your whole team met you at home plate, like in high school."

Two of the three home runs that Moustakas hit in Venezuela were to dead center field and he banged some balls off the left-field fence. He wasn't doing that last year for the Royals.

"My strength is my hands and being able to hit the ball to right field," he said. "I got in trouble by trying to pull it, I just didn't let it happen. So when I tried to pull it, hips flew, shoulders flew, head flew, and I had no chance at making contact."

Now, Grifol wants Moustakas to drive, not dunk, the ball to center and to left.

"Pedro's an intense guy and he gets in my head and lets me know that we're not doing that -- we're not flaring the ball over there," Moustakas said. "We're going to do damage, we're going to drive the ball that way. That's our motto: Do damage."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Mike Moustakas