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Royals pitchers preparing to swing the bats

Starters to hit in first Interleague series this weekend against Phillies

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CHICAGO -- Royals right-hander James Shields had a bat in his hand on Thursday morning and was headed for the batting cage at U.S. Cellular Field. Someone asked him if he was feeling "hitterish."

Shields just smiled.

"I'm feeling hitterish right now, because I'm going to the batting cage," Shields said. "I don't know if in the game I'm going to be feeling so hitterish."

Shields is one of three starting pitchers who'll be batting this weekend at Philadelphia, where the Royals' first Interleague series of the season will be played. With the new schedule prompted by Houston's move to the American League, the AL visits to National League parks are occurring throughout the season rather than in a midyear clump.

The other Royals' series at NL parks: April 16-17 at Atlanta; May 29-30 at St. Louis, and Aug. 2-3-4 at the New York Mets. In anticipation, manager Ned Yost had his pitchers, primarily the starters and long relievers, begin batting and bunting practice early in Spring Training.

"They'll be prepared, but it's not like being a National League pitcher where you're hitting every five days," Yost said. "So Shields might hit in three games of 162. So, benefits? I don't know. ... We've always been prepared -- it's not that we weren't prepared, but we started Interleague Play in June and six weeks out, we started batting practice. So this year we started maybe eight weeks out, so we're no more prepared than we've ever been in the past."

Wade Davis, who'll start on Friday in Philly's home opener, will get the first hacks.

"It's going to be cold, it's probably going to rain and I'll probably be in the back corner of the box, trying to work a five-pitch at-bat without swinging," Davis said with slight grin. "Hopefully, avoid swinging at all."

Davis, though, has a different take on the benefits of pitchers' batting practice: "It helps us become a more complete player and understanding the game. I've always enjoyed hitting, not necessarily because I enjoyed swinging the bat, but understanding why my hands couldn't hit certain pitches and stuff like that helps you understand your opponents' swings -- why they work one way and why they can't hit certain pitches."

Luis Mendoza will start Saturday night and had the benefit of a couple of at-bats in a Cactus League game.

"It's been better than last year. I've been more confident at the plate," Mendoza said. "The two at-bats I had when we faced Milwaukee gave me kind of an idea how it's going to feel. Last year, I got two at-bats and felt like I hadn't hit in 10 years so it was weird. But now we start early in the spring practicing hitting and that gives you more confidence."

Shields has the prospect of facing Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels on Sunday and remembered, correctly, that he's 1-for-2 against him. That came on June 16, 2006, at Philly, when Shields not only pitched Tampa Bay to a 10-4 win, but went 2-for-3 at the plate.

"That was when I was 24 years old and young," Shields said.

In his career at the plate, Shields is 7-for-37 (.189). We'll see how "hitterish" he is on Sunday.

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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