At some point, logic and reason dictate that Mike Moustakas’ bat will run into a mistake pitch and we will witness history. Moustakas will finally club his 37th homer of the season, breaking Steve Balboni’s franchise record of 36 in a single year. After more than three decades, the Royals’ most dubious record will be wiped from the books.
After all, Moustakas, the Royals’ third baseman, is just one homer from the record. He entered Friday with 16 games left. And yet, a balky and tender right knee has put the previously unthinkable on the table. Maybe the record is not an absolute lock.
In a 3-2 loss to the Indians on Thursday, Moustakas finished one for four with a single and a strikeout. It was his 11th straight game without a homer. At this point, let’s consider the trends: In his last 18 games heading into Friday’s game, Moustakas is batting .207 with a .293 slugging percentage and one homer in 65 plate appearances. The decline in performance has come in the weeks after his initial knee injury, which occurred on Aug. 23 against the Colorado Rockies at Kauffman Stadium.
Moustakas heard a tendon “pop” while running to first base on a fly ball to center field, Royals mananger Ned Yost said. Moustakas didn’t sustain any structural damage, yet the pain has continued to linger, especially after he re-aggravated the injury on Detroit on Sept. 6. Moustakas is just 2 for 20 since tweaking the knee.
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“Maybe a little bit,” Yost said this week, when asked whether the injury was affecting Moustakas.
For the most part, the Royals have remained somewhat tight-lipped on the nature of the injury. Moustakas says he’s committed to playing. It affects him most while running the bases. It limits his range at third. It makes it harder to spin off his stiff front leg while swinging at the plate. Yet for weeks, he’s managed the pain. He is not, however, the same player he was before the issue.
In his first 115 games, Moustakas clubbed 35 homers while batting .282 with an .876 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). In all, he went deep once every 13.8 plate appearances.
In the 18 games since, he has essentially hit like shortstop Alcides Escobar. And in his last 23 games, dating back to his last homer on Aug. 15, Moustakas has just one homer in 89 plate appearances.
“When he gets in that box, he’s not thinking about his knee,” Yost said this week, trying to tamp down concern. “He’s just trying to put a good swing on it.”
Here is a look at Moustakas’ performance before and after the knee injury on Aug. 23:
Before: 115 games, 482 plate appearances, .282 BA/.317 OBP/.559 SLG, 35 homers
After: 18 games, 65 plate appearances, .207 BA/.292 OBP/.293 SLG, one homer