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Getz wins starting job at second base

Getz wins starting job at second base

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Chris Getz had the edge over Johnny Giavotella in their duel for the Royals' second-base job and he held onto it.

Manager Ned Yost announced on Saturday that Getz would start the season at second base and that Giavotella was optioned to Triple-A Omaha.

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Giavotella has been a rising hitting star in the Royals' organization over the last two years, but Getz, in Yost's view, has certain advantages.

"When we came in [to camp] our main focus was going to be pitching, defense and speed and Getz, of course, used to pitch when he was in high school, but take that out of the equation," Yost said straight-faced. "Defensive and speed, he fits both of those criteria for us as the best option for the second baseman going forward, right now."

In addition, Getz had the better camp in several categories. He's hit .372 (16-for-43) with 12 runs, three stolen bases and a .426 on-base percentage. Giavotella was at .267 (12-for-45), six runs and a .283 on-base percentage. Each player had three doubles and one home run and Giavotella had the RBIs advantage, 11-6.

"Of course, that's a factor," Yost said. "Getzy's always going to be a little bit ahead going into these situations because he can play defense, because he can steal, because he can bunt, because he can run. In order for Johnny to jump up in front, he's going to have to jump up. Again, his defense is vastly improved, but he's got to hit and Getzy just had a better camp."

Getz and Giavotella were friendly rivals and both have spent time as the team's second baseman over the last two seasons.

"Just like any other Spring Training, you want to come out here and show what you can do," Getz said. "Gio did quite well. It's Spring Training and a lot of weird things can happen, but I felt pretty good, I felt like I really turned it on the last couple of weeks with some of the adjustments I made with Jack [Maloof, hitting coach]. And just continued to be myself and I'm just fortunate to be in this situation."

Last season proved to be something of a revolving door at second base. In Spring Training 2012, Giavotella also was sent to Omaha and Getz shared the job with Yuniesky Betancourt, brought in as a backup. Eventually Getz was hurt, Betancourt was released and Giavotella finished the season at second base.

The final count for starts at second: Getz 55, Betancourt 43, Giavotella 43, Irving Falu 11, Tony Abreu 10.

Getz was on the disabled list three times (leg strain, ribcage bruise, thumb fracture) so staying in one solid piece this year is his goal.

"Proving to be healthy is kind of an abstract thing," Getz said. "Injuries happen in this game, freak injuries, so sometimes there's no dodging it. But there are certain things you can do to prevent, in terms of keeping your body in shape, eating well and staying ready. Then there are other things you just can't avoid. If I'm out there and healthy, I can be very productive and help the team."

Getz knows freak injuries. His first season with the Royals in 2010 ended in September when he was struck in the back of the head by a thrown ball while sliding into second base. He sustained a mild concussion.

A slender left-handed batter, Getz has exhibited more pop in the last couple of years.

"In terms of strength training or anything like that, I don't think it's necessarily anything along those lines," he said. "I think it's more of putting myself in position at the plate to put a little more behind the ball, to make harder contact. Besides being a little bit stronger, who knows? We change things up each year and sometimes you feel a little better. But nothing drastic, just putting myself in a better hitting position."

Yeah, who knows? Maybe he'll end his streak of never hitting a home run for the Royals, now at 793 at-bats. It's also been 918 at-bats, longest drought in the Majors, since his last home run for the White Sox on July 19, 2009, against current teammate Jeremy Guthrie.

Last season Getz played just 64 games and batted .275. In 2011, he got into a career-high 118 games when he hit .255 and swiped 21 bases.

But in 2011, Giavotella got his first exposure to the Majors in early August and played 46 games with a .247 average. In the offseason, he underwent hip surgery. Last year, in two stints, he got into 53 games and hit .238.

The Royals are optimistic that Giavotella, a .308 career hitter in the Minors, eventually will blossom as a big league hitter. In his 99 games so far, though, his overall average is .242.

Oddly enough, on the day that Getz won the second base job, he finished Saturday's 11-10 victory over Arizona by playing the last four innings as a left fielder. That fulfilled Yost's vow to give players some time at other positions to enhance team versatility.

"I've been telling him all spring that I'm going to put him out there. Now, I've fulfilled my promise," Yost said. "Like I told him, too: 'They can't just hit you a routine fly ball. They've got to hit one off the wall.' But he did fine out there."

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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