KANSAS CITY -- If anyone was holding their breath, waiting for Mike Aviles to falter, they are blue in the face by now. Royals blue, we trust.
Aviles is still going strong after getting a late start in his Major League career this year. For most of the season he's been leading all rookies in batting average and has been a driving force at the top of the Royals' lineup since June.
He's injected new life into an offense that often struggled to score, and for that reason, Aviles is the Royals' nominee for the Hank Aaron Award.
This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in each league, with each club having a nominee. Fans can vote at royals.com from Monday, Sept. 22 until Sunday, Oct. 12 to select the winner in each league. The winners will be announced prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday, Oct. 26.
Last year's winners were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.
Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.
Aviles was introduced to the Royals' lineup for the first time on May 29 after being called up from Triple-A Omaha. Extremely anxious, he had a terrible game and manager Trey Hillman let him sit on the bench for a week.
It was a wise move.
Turned loose back home in the Bronx, the 27-year-old Aviles banged two doubles at Yankee Stadium in a 2-1 victory. He was off and running.
Mature for a rookie, Aviles has been amazingly consistent. He hit .330 in June, .330 in July and .339 in August, and he's played very well at shortstop while taking an occasional turn at second base and third.
He's made the Major Leagues look almost easy.
"It's definitely not easy. If it was easy, I'd be happy. It's a grind," he said. "You've got to go up there, plug away, get good at-bats. Fortunately, it's been rolling in a good fashion for me. But, for the most part, it's definitely not easy. It's tough every day. You face good, quality pitchers and you've just got to battle."
Aviles certainly is a battler. At some point, he fell into a baseball pigeonhole, labeled "utility player." That presumably was his fate if and when he made the Majors.
And it took five-plus years, including three with Omaha, for him to make it and start proving the pigeonhole analysts wrong.
His arrival, as a replacement for light-hitting Tony Pena, certainly put extra zip into the Royals' lineup.
"I think certainly Mike's addition took pressure off some of the other hitters, no doubt about it. When Mike started hitting and got off to the hot start he did, that's when our production started coming up," Hillman said. "When you add a piece, I think you can do that. You can add run production simply because of the lack of pressure other pieces feel."
As of last Tuesday, Aviles not only had the highest rookie batting average, his mark of .366 with runners on base was second in the Majors. Only Atlanta's Chipper Jones was better at .388.
His power showed in 24 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. Batting second most often but sometimes leading off, he had 40 RBIs and had swiped six bases in eight tries.
Quite good, all things considered.
"It's a new experience. Even though Mike Aviles has been working his rear end off in the Minor Leagues and now he gets to this venue and the game is faster, the personnel is different, there's more to learn and there's more to keep up with," Hillman said.
"He's done an exceptional job of continuing to slow the game down when it speeds up on him."