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Stronger Butler simply a hitting machine

Stronger Butler simply a hitting machine

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If there are three words that can best describe Billy Butler, it's this: He can hit.

That's the reason that Butler is on the cover of the Royals' media guide holding the 2012 Silver Slugger Award as the designated hitter on the American League team. He also won the 2012 Edgar Martinez Award that goes to the game's best DH.

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Butler's average was .313 with 107 RBIs and 29 home runs, most of that as a DH. He did start 20 games at first base.

Those were the biggest numbers of his career in the Triple Crown categories and Butler believes that his move to Scottsdale, Ariz., not far from the Royals' training camp, has been beneficial. It suits his family -- wife Katie and daughters Kenley, 4, and Karsyn, 2 months -- and helps his training regimen.

"I think the ability to always get outside, work out here, running outside and all that stuff has made me a better player. It's maximized my offseason training," Butler said. "I'm not saying it's physically made me in better shape but three or four times better in baseball shape. It made me three or four times stronger, too."

There is one workout, however, that he had in his former home at Idaho Falls, Idaho, and doesn't have in Scottsdale -- shoveling snow.

"I don't miss that at all," Butler said.

Being in Arizona over the winter puts him in constant contact with the Royals' strength and conditioning coordinator, Ryan Stoneberg.

"My body's firing quick, my agility's better than it has been in the past. I'm not saying I'm the most agile guy but Stoney's maximized it and made me better," Butler said. "He's made me bigger, better shape, stronger and faster."

Not that Butler at 250 pounds, "give or take depending on the time of season," is going to challenge Jarrod Dyson or maybe not even Salvador Perez in a race, but he's got less body fat and just feels better.

The only race the Royals want Butler to win is his bat beating the ball. He does that often and regularly. In Spring Training, he's right on track with a .308 average and 14 RBIs in his 19 games. In manager Ned Yost's eyes, he's the epitome of consistency.

"The least streakiest player I've ever seen in my life is Billy Butler," Yost said. "His streak goes from being good, good, great to back to good. He doesn't have the real streaky streaks that we think of."

Last season, through his 161 games, Butler went hitless in four straight games just once (during the Royals' 12-game skid in April) and in three straight games just once. Other than that, you have to squint real hard at the box scores to even find back-to-back hitless days for Butler.

He's not streaky for a reason, he believes.

"I just don't allow myself to get caught up in what's going on around -- I just keep focused on what I'm doing at the plate and not being result-based," Butler said. "I just go up there and I've got my approach and I'm just going to hit the ball hard. If it's at somebody, it's at somebody and I'm just going to build off that if it's a positive at-bat, even if you don't get good results. The results are going to come if you consistently keep your approach and consistently hit the ball hard. That's all I try to do."

The big right-handed hitter launches his at-bats with a front-leg kick that he calls unorthodox. The object is to get his foot down and his weight in position to hit at the same time each time.

"I don't just have a stride, I have a leg kick," he said. "I basically start a toe-tap and tap back. Get my weight back. I take my foot back whenever the pitcher starts his motion. Out of the stretch, it's a little different because whenever he comes set, I get it back. So then whenever he lifts his leg up to go home ... and when he releases the ball, I want to have my foot down. So all I'm doing there is weight transfer and hands. On an offspeed pitch, sometimes I'll double-tap and reload."

The leg kick is something he's always done, even though at times when he was a youngster, a well-meaning coach would try to eliminate it. Nope, didn't work.

"That's just who I am. It's just something I have to do; it's part of who I am at the plate," Butler said.

He noted that Albert Pujols basically has no stride, but that, obviously, works well for him. Everyone's different.

"There are a million different stances that everybody has, but if you look at the really good hitters, whenever the ball is released they're all basically in the same spot. They all get to the same loading and firing position," Butler said. "They might get there in all different ways but it looks pretty close when you're getting almost to that contact point. It's very cool to watch."

Butler is an avid student of hitting and, therefore, of the pitchers who try to keep him from doing it. One look at a pitcher, old or new, and the mental recording machinery kicks in. Right now, during Spring Training, he's got fresh meat to dissect.

"It's all mental notes. I think I'm going way over the top to be writing it down," he said. "I keep mental notes down to where whenever I face the guy again I know what he did last time off me -- if he did something that basically raised an eyebrow or something he had never done before."

Butler also keeps an eye on the stadium radar readings on pitch speeds. Sometimes pitches just look harder than they really are.

"That why I look at the radar for velocity and once I get the velocity, my timing is there," he said.

And the hits keep coming.

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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