KANSAS CITY -- One player who continues to impress Royals manager Mike Matheny is second baseman Nicky Lopez.
And this is interesting, considering Lopez struggled to find playing time early in the season. Now, though, Lopez is entrenched at second base and hitting second in the batting order.
Matheny’s reasoning goes beyond the traditional numbers: He believes Lopez provides, for the most part, solid plate appearances and well-above-average defense.
In the latter category, Matheny goes as far as to say that Lopez is playing at a Gold Glove level.
“[Infielders coach] Vance [Wilson] is doing a terrific job of getting these guys in the right spot in terms of alignment,” Matheny said. “We’re going to get burned at times. But we seem to be in the right place more than not -- and guys still have to make plays.
“People have said this before about Nicky, but that is Gold Glove-caliber defense he is playing. He has the range, the instincts. I love watching infielders act like Jack Russell Terriers chasing a rubber ball around. This guy is all over the place, wanting to make a play and can’t stand being away from the action. He just finds way to make something happen. He is fun to watch right now.”
Dozier's defense at first base
Matheny has been going with his best defensive players late in games, and that usually has included Bubba Starling in center field, which moves Whit Merrifield to right field and, thus, slides starting right fielder Hunter Dozier to first base.
But is Dozier the club's best defender at first base?
“I believe he is a very good defender at first base,” Matheny said. “I will tread lightly on [naming] ‘the best.’ You’ve got a guy who was drafted as a shortstop, has good range, has good instincts on the infield and has soft hands. He’s always going to be a viable option at first base."
Zimmer healthy again
Right-hander Kyle Zimmer experienced a “zinger” back on Aug. 6, something Matheny described as when a pitcher experiences a sudden bolt of electricity firing through his arm. Zimmer has pitched only twice since, including one inning on Friday in which he gave up one run and started the inning by giving up a walk and a double.
“I thought he did a nice job of continuing to pitch there,” Matheny said. “He had stress out there, which is good. He had guys out there in scoring position. But he made pitches. He did a nice job. He’s done a nice job all season. It was a long pause for him lately, but he looked good.”