KANSAS CITY -- Throughout Spring Training, Royals manager Ned Yost emphasized that his 2019 team needed to be a motion team, a group that would cut down on its strikeouts with a better two-strike approach and get the ball in play.
So far, Yost’s Royals haven’t lived up to those expectations. Entering their game Monday against the Rays, the Royals had struck out 239 times and were on pace to strike out 1,383 times this season, which would shatter the franchise record of 1,310 set last season.
But one player who continues to display a superb two-strike approach is super utility man Whit Merrifield, who is slashing a team-best .304/.339/.554 with two strikes. In fact, Merrifield’s 17 two-strike hits are just two behind Baltimore’s Trey Mancini for the Major League lead.
“It’s a mindset to give up a little bit, shorten up a little and get the ball in play,” Yost said. “If you put the ball in play, you never know what might happen. If you strike out, you know exactly what’s going to happen -- you’re walking straight back to the dugout.”
Both Merrifield and Yost acknowledge, though, that the industry’s attitude toward strikeouts has changed dramatically.
“It used to be you’d be embarrassed to strike out,” Yost said. “Not really in today’s game.”
Merrifield has noticed the same, saying, “I think strikeouts are going to be higher because pitchers are so good now and so specialized. But you also see guys who don’t even try to adapt or simplify their approach with two strikes, you know, just try to cause some havoc and motion in the game. Yeah, to me that is concerning. It’s not my kind of game.”
Even Merrifield admits, though, that he’d like to cut down on his own number of strikeouts, which is at 18.
“I don’t like to strike out,” he said. “I think the consensus around the majority of the league is they don’t care if they strike out. There’s no different approach for them. But for me, I just don’t like it.
“When I get to two strikes I simplify everything. I just try to see the ball and get the barrel to it. When I’m going good, and I’ve told [hitting coach] Terry [Bradshaw] to reinforce this to me, I just see the ball and not worry about spin. I just see the ball out of the hand and watch it come into the zone and hit it. That’s my two-strike approach, and I started doing that about two years ago.
“For a guy that can run a little and handle the bat, it makes sense for me to cut down my swing a little with two strikes. Earlier in the count, I’m looking to drive the ball. But with two strikes, shorten up and get the barrel to it and see what happens. You never know.”