August 30, 2014

Omar Infante returns to Royals lineup with shoulder not yet 100 percent

Royals infielder Omar Infante missed four games because of a sore shoulder but felt able to return for the game on Saturday against the Indians. His readiness prevented the team from starting newcomer Jayson Nix, who was activated earlier in the day after being claimed on waivers on Thursday.

Omar Infante stood at least 100 feet away from Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar as they played catch Saturday afternoon. With each throw, Infante tested the viability of his sore right shoulder. His face revealed the occasional grimace, evidence of the discomfort still lingering in his arm.

“It feels better,” Infante said before taking the field. “But I can’t throw hard, you know?”

The pain kept Infante out of four consecutive games, but he felt able to return for Saturday’s 3-2 loss in 11 innings to the Cleveland Indians. Infante went two for five with a walk in the game.

His readiness prevented the team from starting newcomer Jayson Nix, who was activated earlier in the day after being claimed on waivers Thursday.

To make room for Nix, a 31-year-old journeyman with a .133 batting average for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this season, the club optioned Christian Colon to Class AA Northwest Arkansas. The maneuver was procedural. On Tuesday, when the Class AA season ends, Colon will rejoin the Royals along with fellow temporary Naturals Aaron Crow and Liam Hendriks.

Until then, Nix is the backup infielder. He can handle second base, third base and shortstop. The role is critical on this club, in part because of Infante’s fragility.

Manager Ned Yost insisted Infante could have played Friday, but the team opted for caution.

“We just don’t want to be stupid,” Yost said, and later he explained he expects the discomfort to stick with Infante for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not going to subside,” Yost said. “Forget it subsiding. He’s probably at about 80 percent right now, which is good enough to play. We’re trying to get him to a spot where he’s somewhere around 90 (percent). This is something that’s going to be there. But it won’t affect him once he gets going.”

The Royals signed Infante to a four-year, $32 million deal this winter. He has taken advantage of opportunities created by his No. 2 spot in the batting order, and is tied for second on the club with 59 RBIs. But he has also been an ineffective hitter, with a .648 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that is his lowest since 2005.

Part of the reason may be his health. At 32, Infante, who has never played 150 games in a season, has shown signs of brittleness.

Injuries have nagged Infante all season. Inflammation sprouted in his shoulder and elbow during spring training. He missed three games after getting hit in the face with a pitch in April. He spent 17 games on the disabled list in May because of an irritated disk in his lower back. The training staff has performed maintenance on Infante’s arm and back throughout the year.

“Man, he got hit in the face,” Yost said. “He had the back thing, which he battled through. Some of that plays into it.”

With Infante ailing, Colon started at second base all week. Colon, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, has been impressive with his versatility and his hitting this season. In 19 games, he posted a .790 OPS.

Hosmer hero in Omaha

First baseman Eric Hosmer, coming back from a stress fracture in right hand, experienced some success in his first rehabilitation game for Class AAA Omaha on Saturday.

He got a walkoff single for the Storm Chasers in a 10-9 victory over Colorado Springs. Hosmer went two for six with two RBIs and two strikeouts.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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