Notes: Pena doubts club's doubters
Despite predictions, skipper confident team improves
HOUSTON -- Kansas City manager Tony Pena is a true-blue optimist, so he ignores all of the preseason predictions that have the Royals pegged for last place in the American League Central Division race.
"Nobody is talking about us," Pena said. "But I told our guys I don't care. I still believe in this team. I don't believe in nine guys, I believe in 25 guys, and I will use everybody."
Pena believes his team will be better than last year's, which lost 104 games and finished in last place.
"We are young," he said. "I'm not using that as an excuse, but we will be better. We have a young team, but I think we're going to surprise some people. There's no question we will be better, and I think our pitching could be a lot better. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
Starting Monday with the season opener at Detroit.
High five: One of the more pleasant surprises of the spring has been the performance of 24-year-old right-hander Denny Bautista, who pitched his way into the rotation as the fifth starter.
The rookie turned in another outstanding effort on Sunday. In his final prep for his season-opening start on April 8 against the Angels, Bautista pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings while holding the Houston Astros to only three hits in a 9-6 victory at Minute Maid Park.
"He's more calm [than last year], he doesn't let anything bother him," Pena said. "He has great stuff. He's one of those guys that can make a mistake and get by with it."
Bautista (2-0) struck out five, walked two and retired eight on groundouts. For the spring, opposing hitters hit .237 (22-for-93) against the Dominican. Of his 90 pitches, 56 were for strikes.
"I had good movement on my fastball today," Bautista said. "I threw a lot of fastballs and a few changeups and I kept them down, so I think that's why I was getting ground balls."
Bautista was obtained from Baltimore on June 21, 2004, for pitcher Jason Grimsley. Though he was 0-4 with a 6.51 ERA in five starts for the Royals last season, Bautista averaged a strikeout per inning in 144 Double-A innings last season.
Against Houston, Bautista's fastball occasionally hit 97 mph on the gun while his slider kept Houston's hitters off balance all afternoon.
"Time will tell," Pena said when asked how good Bautista can be. "He's more calm, he's confident, he could have a real good year."
Opening Day lineup: The Royals will open the season on Monday at Comerica Park in Detroit. Pena's projected lineup will consist of David DeJesus in center field followed by second baseman Ruben Gotay, first baseman Mike Sweeney, designated hitter Calvin Pickering, right fielder Matt Stairs, shortstop Angel Berroa, left fielder Terrence Long, catcher John Buck and third baseman Mark Teahen. Right-hander Jose Lima will be on the mound.
Quotable: "Whey you play Opening Day, it doesn't matter what time you play -- you could play at nine o'clock in the morning and you'll be ready." -- Pena on the 1 p.m. ET start time at Detroit for Monday's opener
Extra bases: The Royals finished Spring Training with a record of 14-15-3, the first time the team finished the exhibition season with a losing record since 2002 (13-15-1). ... Emil Brown capped his impressive spring by reaching base three times in a 2-for-4 effort against the Astros. Brown hit .421 (24-for-57) this spring. ... Berroa was another Royal with an impressive spring. His three RBIs Sunday gave the shortstop a team-high 22. He also led the team in hitting (.441) and hits (30). "Angel has grown so much, his confidence level is unreal," Pena said. ... If Teahen starts at third base as expected Monday, he would become just the third Royals rookie to make his Major League debut as a starter on Opening Day, and the first since Michael Tucker started in left field in 1995. The only other Royal to do so was Joe Zdeb, who started in left field in 1977. Seven Royals have made their Major League debuts on Opening Day. ... Pickering hit his second homer in as many days and third of the spring Sunday. ... Of the 12 hits the Royals recorded Sunday, eight went for extra bases, including home runs by Pickering, Alberto Castillo and Berroa.
On deck: Right-hander Lima will be Kansas City's Opening Day starter on Monday against the Detroit Tigers and right-hander Jeremy Bonderman.
Right-hander Runelvys Hernandez will start against Tiger lefty Mike Maroth on Wednesday at Comerica Park, and right-hander Zack Greinke will pitch the series finale on Thursday (April 7) against Detroit right-hander Jason Johnson.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.