CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Willingham ready to be part of Royals' lineup

Willingham ready to be part of Royals' lineup

KANSAS CITY -- Josh Willingham might have missed a few things in his Major League career so far -- postseason play being a principal absence -- but he's accomplished a feat done by only 13 players in history.

Willingham has smashed two grand slams in the same game.

More

"That was a special day in my career, for sure," he said. "I remember a whole lot about that day because I doubt if it'll ever happen to me again."

Likely not. No one has ever done it twice.

Willingham was with the Nationals when he connected for two home runs with the bases loaded on July 27, 2009, against the Brewers. The first came in the fifth inning against an old Royals worthy, Jeff Suppan, and the next in the sixth against Mark DiFelice. That contributed eight of the Nats' runs in a 14-6 victory.

Willingham is the last of the 13 players who had done that. The Yankees' Tony Lazzeri as the first in 1936 and the list includes such notables as Rudy York (1946), Frank Robinson (1970), Robin Ventura (1995) and Nomar Garciaparra (1999).

That's history, of course, and what the Royals are more interested in seeing is how many home runs and doubles their newly-acquired designated hitter (and possibly part-time outfielder) can wallop.

Willingham, a right-handed power hitter, was in the Kansas City lineup for the first time as DH and batted sixth behind Alex Gordon on Tuesday night against Oakland, one of his former clubs.

"It's a nice, balanced lineup. It gives us flow all up and down the lineup," manager Ned Yost said. "No real holes in the lineup. Gives us good right-left balance. He's going to play a lot."

It took Willingham just one pitch to make himself right at home. Batting with one out in the second inning, he drilled left-hander Jon Lester's first delivery to him into left field for a stand-up double, cheered by a standing crowd.

That was his only hit in four at-bats in the 11-3 loss to the A's. Willingham also hit into a double play and struck out twice.

Willingham was with the Twins on Monday at stretch time in Houston when manager Ron Gardenhire pulled him in and told him he'd been dealt to KC for Minor League pitcher Jason Adam.

So, Willingham went from the American League Central's last-place team to its newly-ascended first-place team.

"I've been keeping up and they've been playing some great baseball," Willingham said. "Obviously, facing them the last three years quite a bit, know some of their players -- especially their pitching staff, it's a very good staff. They're playing great baseball right now. I'm going to try to mix in, do my part and try not to get in the way too much."

Willingham is expected to see most of the DH duty, at least until Eric Hosmer comes off his right hand injury to play first base and Billy Butler is bumped back to DH. Willingham, who will share some DH time with left-handed Raul Ibanez, will go with the flow.

"That's what baseball is, day-by-day," Willingham said. "If I come in tomorrow and I'm playing right or shortstop or whatever, we'll just do what I can."

In fact, shortstop was Willingham's position at the University of North Alabama. He was a 17th round choice in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft and spent much of his Minor League years trying to settle in a position. He played infield, outfield, even catcher. In fact, he's played 15 games in the Majors behind the plate, so maybe Yost has an emergency catcher at hand.

Now, at 35, Willingham is considered primarily a DH who can also play left field. Previously, he'd played 23 games at Kauffman Stadium and hit three homers with 11 RBIs and a .278 average. It's a big park.

"I feel like if I hit the ball good and pull it, I can hit it out," he said.

Willingham has good vibes about the Royals.

"You recognize the confidence that this team plays with and that's the first thing that stands out," he said. "And once you look at the team, player-by-player, you realize there's a lot of talent on this team."

Yost figures that being on a hot contending club will elevate Willingham's game as he hunts for his first postseason experience.

"Look, this game is about winning baseball games. You can talk to Josh about playing on a team that's in last place," Yost said. "You go out and you play with intensity, and you play with energy, but when you're losing, it's hard. It's not as much fun."

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

Less