The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 5:58 AM
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Kansas City Royals' Billy Butler was ready for the challenge, facing Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners last week.
However, Hernandez struck out Butler in the first inning.
Butler's second at-bat?
A home run off the Seattle ace.
"A guy with that type of stuff you've got to bring your 'A' game," Butler said. "You always get up for guys like that. I'd rather face a guy like that any day. He raises his game and against a guy of that caliber, I elevate my game."
Just 24, Butler could develop into a power hitter as he matures. But he is already a doubles machine with a major league-leading 96 since the start of the 2009 season.
He hit 51 of them in 2009 to become only the seventh player with 50 doubles before his 24th birthday. The others are Stan Musial, Hank Greenberg, Alex Rodriguez, Enos Slaughter, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
"It's good to be mentioned with those guys, but you've still got to go out there and do your job," Butler said. "You've got to continue to do it or it doesn't mean anything. You're only as good as what you've been. You can't rely on the past. You need to go there and prove yourself."
Butler, a 2004 first-round pick out of Jacksonville (Fla.) Wolfson High, said he doesn't pay attention to critics who say he should hit more home runs. Butler hit 15 last season, down from 21 in 2009. He doesn't go to the plate looking to hit the ball out of the park.
"I just try to go up there with a solid approach," Butler said.
There have been only nine players who have hit 30 home runs in a season for the Royals. Steve Balboni's 36 homers in 1985 is the club record.
"There's nothing wrong with doubles, either," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "But I think as good a hitter as Billy is, you've got to know how to hit and then power comes. I talked to John Mayberry (who hit 34 home runs in 1974 for the Royals) and he said, 'I had to learn how to hit first before I could learn how to hit home runs.' If you're up there just trying to hit home runs, you're never going to hit for a high average."
Yost is more concerned with Butler simply learning how to hit well, than how to lift and drive the ball out of the park.
"The home runs are not as big a concern to me as they are to some people," he said. "We play in a huge park. Home runs are going to come for Billy. I'm not putting a number on it. It doesn't really concern me right now. He's one of the best hitters in the American League and I'll just stay with that."
Butler signed a four-year, $30 million contract extension in January and wants to be part of the Royals' future. The Royals' farm system is teeming with blue chip prospects.
"I've always been happy playing in Kansas City," Butler said. "I am excited to be here and see things through. We have a lot of young guys coming. We have a lot of special things to achieve. I think we're going to do them together. ... We've got a lot of optimism, a lot of talent, a lot of draft picks, a lot of expectations with things in the future.
We have to see how it translates on the field. I'm not too old myself."