Notes: Gathright stuck at the bottom
Buck slumping offensively; Auction held for Coolbaugh family
KANSAS CITY -- Mark Grudzielanek would love to see Joey Gathright in the leadoff spot. However, lineup calculus will likely keep Gathright at the bottom of the order for the next few weeks.
Gathright, batting .354 with five stolen bases in 99 at-bats, delivered a key RBI single in Friday's loss and moved from first to third on a single to left field. It's that average and speed that make Gathright a perfect leadoff hitter.
"He is fun to have out there," Grudzielanek said. "Slide me or slide [David] DeJesus to No. 3 or No. 5. Let him steal. I think it's huge for any team to have that speed at the top of the lineup."
Gathright, who has batted eighth or ninth this season, fashioned a team-high .413 on-base percentage entering Saturday's game. He is batting .462 (12-for-26) in August with at least one hit in eight of his last nine games.
However, a lineup shift has less to do with Gathright and more with other hitters. Gathright is more of a prototypical leadoff hitter than DeJesus, a player with 48 RBIs (one off the team lead) and average speed. But Gathright's left-handed bat causes some difficulty.
Manager Buddy Bell usually uses a left-right-left-right combination with DeJesus, Grudzielanek, Mark Teahen and Billy Butler at the top of the order. Putting Gathright at the top of the lineup could cause a string of lefties at the top -- or at the bottom.
"In theory, it makes sense because of Joey's speed and things like that," said Bell, who is stepping down as manager at the end of the season. "The problem is where to you put everybody else? I think he will eventually be a leadoff guy, but somebody else will make that decision. It just kind of involves not just Joey. It involves other guys. We will probably keep him where he is at."
Left-handers Ross Gload and Alex Gordon usually hit fifth and sixth. Moving Teahen or DeJesus to fifth would create three consecutive left-handers in the order -- and create matchup problems in the late innings.
"Maybe in September we will probably put him up there a couple of times. We may experiment with that and some other lineup changes," Bell added.
Buck struggling: John Buck, one of the best offensive catchers in baseball during the first half of the season, has slumped in recent weeks. Buck is batting .180 since June 4 and is 3-for-21 in his last seven games.
Buck, who leads the team with 16 homers, has homered just once since July 16. After using a leg kick and knee cock earlier in the season for timing purposes, he has changed his approach several times.
In the beginning, Buck hit very well with no one on base -- a trend that has yielded a .271 mark with 13 homers when no one is on, versus a .184 average and three homers with men on base. Hitting coach Mike Barnett wanted Buck to change his approach to the pitch when the pitcher was throwing from the stretch.
"We have kind of modified it where he still has the knee cock, but it is not quite as big," Barnett said. "It allows him the same freedom and the same aggressiveness that I thought was good with the knee cock, but we shortened it down a little bit. It is now basically back to the same move, it's just a shorter move."
Barnett also believes the league has adapted to Buck. In the season's first half, Buck hit 15 homers. In the second half, Buck has hit just one homer and has seen more off-speed pitches.
"Earlier on in the year, Bucky was getting a lot of fastballs to hit and then I think what happened is the league kind of changed and they started throwing more breaking balls and things like that," Barnett said. "He tried adjusting by almost swinging at every breaking ball that came up there. He started getting himself out a little bit."
Overall, Buck's line of .235/.322/.490 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) is still better than last season's mark and rates above the league average.
"He is definitely getting better as far as pitching recognition and getting pitches that he can handle," Barnett said. "It's just a matter of them going through these lessons and getting to the point where they can be consistent."
Silent auction: The Royals held a silent auction Friday night and raised over $5,800 for the family of Mike Coolbaugh, the former Omaha Royals player and Tulsa Drillers' first base coach who passed away July 22 after being struck by a line drive. A second silent auction will be held on Aug. 24 on the main concourse in section 101.
O'Neil seat: Bill Clem is sitting in Buck's seat for Saturday's game. Clem contracted polio when he was 18 months old but was eventually named to the All-American Wheelchair Basketball team six times and led his 1949 team to the National Wheelchair Basketball Championship. Clem was named to the Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Bunts: Bell reported no problems with Jorge De La Rosa's throwing session Thursday. De La Rosa (left elbow strain) is still on course to make at least one rehab start before returning to the rotation. ... Sunday's game will start at 6:10 p.m. CT, the only home Sunday night game this season. ... KC has scored two runs in the last two games, its lowest back-to-back total since June 30 and July 1 against Chicago.
Royals' Rundown: Triple-A Omaha won, 5-1, over Memphis. Neal Musser pitched two more scoreless innings and upped his season-long streak to 45 2/3 innings without an earned run. Craig Brazell hit his 34th homer overall and 27th for the O-Royals. ... Double-A Wichita defeated Midland, 3-2, behind seven shutout inning from Danny Christensen. ... Class A Wilmington lost, 5-1, to Frederick. Brandon Duckworth made his second rehab appearance and allowed four runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings. Mario Lisson had two hits, a run scored and a stolen base in the win.
Class A Burlington won, 5-3, over Fort Wayne. Mario Santiago won his fourth straight start. ... Advanced Rookie Idaho Falls won, 6-4, over Billings. Clint Robinson had three hits, including his league-leading 11th homer. Adrian Ortiz, the team's No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft, went 3-for-4 with a stolen base.
Player of the day: Christensen. A member of the team's 40-man roster, Christensen has struggled at Double-A Wichita. He is 3-12 with a 6.04 ERA in 22 games, 20 of them starts, for the Wranglers. Christensen was a fourth-round pick in 2002 draft.
Coming up: Brian Bannister (8-6, 3.32 ERA), 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his last four starts, will start against A.J. Burnett (5-6, 4.31 ERA)on Sunday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.