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Hillman institutes new defensive drills

Hillman institutes new defensive drills

KANSAS CITY -- The pregame warm-up drew an interested crowd of onlookers, as infielders, pitchers and catchers scattered around the diamond and began briskly throwing the ball around. Two coaches stood by watching and timing the event with a stopwatch. The instructions were pretty simple. Work fast. Throw accurately. Don't let the ball hit the ground.

Nine or 10 minutes later, the ball was still whizzing around from glove to glove, never touching the ground. The drill ended with a fumbled ball, a couple of groans from the players and a couple of cheers from the coaches.

Welcome to the new-look Royals -- the Royals who have followed their leader, Trey Hillman, into the brave new world of drills designed to improve defensive play.

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To put defensive drills in proper context, big league teams of the past few years were about as likely to conduct defensive drills as they were to take a Greyhound on a road trip. When was the last time you saw a team take pre-game infield practice? Or maybe you're asking what is infield practice?

Hillman calls the pregame ritual, "The Play-Catch Drill." No style points on the name, but the results speak for themselves.

The Royals have made only nine errors in the first 24 games of the season. Seven have been fielding errors, while two have been throwing errors.

Last season, the Royals committed 59 fielding errors and 47 throwing errors.

"We know we're not an offensive juggernaut," Hillman said. "We've got to pitch it, and we've got to catch it. I think our emphasis is in the right spot."

Backing up Hillman's point, Kansas City leads the American League with a .990 fielding percentage. The team's defensive improvement has contributed in no small way to the pitching improvement of the 2008 squad, which in turn has contributed to the team's best April start in years.

Now Hillman really needs to get a new name for "The Play-Catch Drill."

Max Utsler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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