Living in the trade-rumor bubble is a fact of life for Josh Willingham.
He was on the turf stretching about 90 before the Minnesota Twins’ game at Houston when manager Rod Gardenhire approached and invited Willingham to his office.
“I knew something was going on,” Willingham said. “My initial thought when I heard was, ‘Well, that’s in our own division.’”
Further reflection brought this realization: “Once it kind of settled in, I thought it would be a good fit.”
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Also an immediate one. Willingham was set to open Tuesday’s game against the A’s as the Royals’ designated hitter, hitting sixth in the order.
He joins a Royals team that’s won eight straight and moved into first place in the American League Central Division with Monday’s 3-2 victory over Oakland.
The Royals are Willingham’s fifth team in his 11-year career. He spent his first five years with the Marlins, who made the former North Alabama shortstop their 17th-round choice in the 2000 draft. He spent two seasons with the Nationals and one with the A’s before joining the Twins in 2012, when he had a career year with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs.
But as far as playing on a winning team, that’s happened only three times, all in Miami, and none of his teams have finished higher than third.
“I have some experience. Hopefully, I can bring some leadership,” Willingham said.
Manager Ned Yost said the idea is to have Willingham, who had 12 home runs and 34 RBI in 68 games this season, DH most days while Eric Hosmer’s hand injury keeps him sidelined and regular DH Billy Butler patrols first base.
“We’ll go day-to-day with it,” Yost said. “But he’s going to play a lot until Hos gets back. He’s a presence in the lineup because he can drive the ball a long way.”
The Royals had used several players in the DH role over the past few weeks, and Raul Ibañez will continue to see duty.
The Royals were unsure about their roster move to make room for Willingham, until the team found out about left-handed pitcher Scott Downs.
He woke up Monday morning with a neck sprain, a cervical facet, according to Royals officials. He received treatment, but couldn’t throw on Tuesday morning. He was put on the 15-day disabled list, backdated to Aug. 3.