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'Moose' taking a positive track for Royals

Third baseman Moustakas hitting .452 in Cactus League action

'Moose' taking a positive track for Royals

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There are "Mooooooooose" calls even at Surprise Stadium, some 1,250 miles from Kansas City. No recorded antler sightings, but you never know.

After all, the Moose, aka Mike Moustakas, is on the loose in Spring Training and so are the Royals. The team has a 13-1-1 record and Moustakas is hitting .452 (14-for-31).

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As Monday's off-day rolled around, that put Moustakas in seventh place among all Major League hitters -- topped, quite naturally, by one of the Moose's teammates, Alex Gordon, at .520. The Royals' team average of .347 is way ahead of the pack.

These are heady times for the Royals.

"That's what we expect, though," Moustakas said. "That's where we're at nowadays. We don't expect to have to work as hard to figure things out this early in spring. We expect to be in the middle of our game, not the top of our game at all times. And we're working to be at the top of our game during the season."

If this is the middle of the Royals' game, the top should be something to see.

"With everything that's happened this year, with the arms that we just got and the lineup that we're putting out still with Billy [Butler], Gordo, Hoz [Eric Hosmer], it's going to be a fun year with these guys," Moustakas said.

The Royals, of course, will need the productive Moustakas they had for most of last season, not the Moose of the last two months. In his first 95 games, Moustakas had 16 homers, 24 doubles, 50 RBIs and a .262 average. Then, in the first inning on July 28 at Seattle, he sprained his right knee while sprawling into foul territory for a hot grounder, twisting and throwing from his knees.

Moustakas missed just one game and got back into the lineup, but in his last 54 games, his numbers were just four homers, 10 doubles, 23 RBIs and a .204 average.

Did the knee injury affect his bat?

"No, I'm not going to ever be one to make excuses," Moustakas said. "I was on the field, so I was 100 percent. Any time I'm on the field, there's nothing wrong with me. I'll go out and play as if everything was 100 percent, and that's how you have to approach the game."

Manager Ned Yost also discounted the knee as a cause.

"That didn't have anything to do with it," Yost said.

Yost cast a subsequent slump and the player's frustration factor as the villain.

"His frustration level grew more in the second half with his at-bats," Yost said. "He got off to a good start, then you ride a good start. Then when you start to struggle, you start fighting it a little bit. And I think he started fighting it in the second half. Like Hosmer, the frustration level came into his game, when you're fighting frustration and trying to get it all right in one at-bat."

So in this Spring Training, Moustakas is getting it right through an accumulation of at-bats which, for the most part, have been very good for him.

"I'm seeing the ball pretty well right now and it's spring, it's still early and we're going to see where we're at after this and try to keep this going on through to the season," Moustakas said.

Even when he was fighting for hits last season, Moustakas' superb fielding never flagged.

"In this game, if you're not doing something on offense, you better do something on defense to help the team win," Moustakas said. "You have to separate each side of the field. There are two sides to this game. So you can always help your team out somehow.

"George [Brett] said it best: 'Get your positives and your negatives on your run differential in the game.' If you let in a run on defense, you better drive in two on offense. That's kind of how it is, and that's how George played, too."

Moustakas was so steady and often so spectacular at third base that the Royals promoted him as a Gold Glove contender.

"People forget I got drafted as a shortstop and I was pretty good over there, but I wasn't good enough to beat out [Alcides] Escobar for that job," Moustakas said. "I mean, I'm happy that I wasn't, because he's an unbelievable shortstop.

"I loved coming over to third base and I worked hard with Mark Harris, our old infielder coordinator in the Minor Leagues, and now Eddie Rodriguez, who's really taught me about the position itself. They've helped me out tremendously. They were out there every day hitting me fungoes and ground balls. So it's just as much a credit to those guys as it is to me."

A fire burns inside of Moustakas, an intensity that Yost says can't be "ramped up," but just has to be there. The trick is to mold it so the result is production on the field.

"I hate losing," Moustakas said. "I mean, ever since I was a kid, I always won at everything I did, whether that be basketball, football, baseball. I always had that desire, that burning to win. So any game I go out there, I want to win at all costs. I'll go out and play as hard to do what we need to do to win."

Winning is something Moustakas expects to experience often this year.

"At the end of the year, we want to be the last team standing," he said. "But we've got to take the old cliches, man -- one day at a time and go out there and try to win a ballgame Day 1 in Chicago."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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