Hunter Dozier’s big-league experience with the Royals has been a quiet one. Yes, there have been afternoon workout sessions with Mike Moustakas and a six-game road trip through Minnesota and Chicago. But until Monday night, there had been no action.
The Royals’ 16-3 blowout loss to the Oakland A’s allowed Dozier to make his major-league debut after a long wait. He took over in right field in the seventh and stepped to the plate in the ninth, soaking in a standing ovation from what remained of the 31,061 in attendance.
As Dozier stood there, he began to feel goosebumps, he said. Moments later, he went down swinging against Oakland reliever Zach Neal.
“Unreal experience,” Dozier said. “It’s been a while since I played a game. But it was incredible. I’m kind of speechless.”
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After a breakout season in the minors, Dozier, a former first-round pick, was added to the Royals’ major-league roster on Sept. 2.
In the moments before Monday’s series opener, Royals manager Ned Yost said Dozier would play at some point, but the right opportunity had not presented itself. This was partly because of the Royals’ position in the playoff race — they are still feasibly in contention, albeit a long shot — and partly because of Dozier’s defense and defensive position.
While Dozier’s natural position is at third base, he also saw time in the outfield at Class AAA Omaha. But Yost has been hesitant to insert an inexperienced Dozier into right field during a stretch of games that were crucial to the club’s slim playoff hopes. And for now, Yost has more trust in rookie Cheslor Cuthbert, 23, at third base.
Dozier, who turned 25 in August, crafted a bounce-back season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Class AAA Omaha after two mediocre years diminished his prospect stock. He batted .296 with 23 homers and 44 doubles in 129 games. The performance came after he hit just .213 with 12 homers at Northwest Arkansas in 2015.
“He’s turned into being the player we all hoped and thought that he could be,” Yost said.
Dozier was selected in the first round of the 2013 amateur draft. But after a promising debut in 2013, his numbers waned over the next two seasons. As he sat in the Royals’ dugout Monday, Yost conceded that he had some doubts about Dozier as a prospect after watching him during spring training in 2014 and 2015.
When asked what Dozier did during spring training to offer a solid impression, Yost responded: “To be honest with you, nothing.”
“The last couple of springs, nothing impressed me about him,” Yost continued. “He was a No. 1 pick, but he got his body back (into the right shape). He got so big and bulky and slow and choppy. But he’s worked hard to get his body back alive.
“He’s swinging the bat extremely well. He’s had a phenomenal year.”
Royals recall right-hander Alec Mills
The Royals made another addition to their September callups on Monday, recalling right-hander Alec Mills from Class AAA Omaha.
With teams allowed to carry anyone on their 40-man roster during September, Mills would have joined the team last week, after the conclusion of the Class AAA season. But an illness delayed his arrival, Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Mills, a former 22nd-round pick, made his major-league debut on May 18, allowing one run in two-thirds of an inning in a loss to the Boston Red Sox. Mills was added to the roster for one day as the 26th man during a doubleheader. He spent most of this season as a starter at Class AA Northwest and Class AAA Omaha, posting a 3.22 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings.
Vargas to be limited to spot-starter duty
Royals left-hander Jason Vargas has finished his rehab from Tommy John surgery and continues throw side sessions to remain stretched out. But manager Ned Yost reiterated on Monday that Vargas will not be used out of the bullpen this month.
Just 13 months removed from elbow reconstruction surgery, Yost said the club did not want to risk putting Vargas in an unusual situation.
“He’s very routine-oriented in his starts,” Yost said. “He starts [his routine] early in the afternoon, and it just doesn’t work being a bullpen guy. You call down there, (say) ‘Get up and go pitch.’ He’s never done it before. He’s 13 months after his surgery and that’s something we don’t want to try to put him through.”
Yost said Vargas would only be used as a possible spot-starter, should the need arise. But it will be interesting to see how the club views the idea of a “need” after right-hander Dillon Gee allowed five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the A’s on Monday night.
Gee, who posted a 3.69 ERA during the month of August, has posted a 4.60 ERA in 118 2/3 innings.