September 1, 2014

Billy Butler sits for Royals series opener as Eric Hosmer starts at first

Manager Ned Yost says he still is unsure on how to split time between the two players.

Eric Hosmer sprayed line drives during batting practice on Monday afternoon. He wore a small protective pad on his right hand. Otherwise, little had changed for Hosmer after his monthlong stint on the disabled list: He was still starting at first base and batting in the middle of the team’s lineup.

Hosmer led a brigade of call-ups from Class AAA Omaha on Monday. He spent two days there on a rehabilitation assignment. On Sunday night, he hit a home run and his big-league replacement, Billy Butler, made a costly error in the field. The organization deemed Hosmer ready for his first action since July 31.

His arrival created a logjam for manager Ned Yost at both first base and designated hitter. Yost is unsure how he will split playing time among Hosmer, Butler, Josh Willingham and Raul Ibanez. Butler rode the bench Monday. Ibanez started at designated hitter. Willingham hopes he can return to the lineup Tuesday.

“I’ve got a bunch of guys I can mix and match with,” Yost said before the game against Texas. “But I’ll tell you: Whoever gets hot is going to play.”

On Monday, that was not Butler. He sat despite his record against Rangers starter Colby Lewis, who is far more vulnerable to lefties than righties. Even so, Butler launched a home run off him on Aug. 22. But he has hit .208 in his last seven games, and Yost deemed him in need of a rest.

“Billy’s been playing every day since Hos left,” Yost said. “Today is a good day to give Billy a day off.”

In Hosmer’s absence, the Royals grabbed first place and Butler came alive. He posted an .815 on-base plus slugging percentage as a first baseman, far better than his .646 OPS as a designated hitter. But a recent minislump may cost him time. Yost has not been shy about taking at-bats away from Butler this season.

Butler declined an interview request. “Not today,” he said when a reporter asked to speak with him. He has expressed dissatisfaction in the past with losing playing time.

The awkwardness was an expected consequence of the club’s rosters moves on Monday. Joining Hosmer on the Interstate 29 express from Omaha were outfielder Carlos Peguero, catcher Francisco Pena, infielder Johnny Giavotella and reliever Casey Coleman. Brandon Finnegan, the southpaw first-round pick from June, also earned a promotion to the majors, as did Class AA outfielder Lane Adams.

Another infusion of players arrives Tuesday. Coming in from Northwest Arkansas will be infielder Christian Colon, reliever Aaron Crow, outfielder Terrance Gore and reliever Liam Hendriks.

Peguero received a start Monday. He homered 15 times in August for the Storm Chasers. He has had seven plate appearances in the majors since 2012, but Yost hoped to capitalize on Peguero’s potential.

“He’s got good power,” Yost said. “And that’s why we put him in there. We don’t want him sitting around and getting cooled off.”

The team is still waiting for Willingham. He has not swung a bat since aggravating his bad back on Friday. He intends to test himself Tuesday afternoon, and hopes to play that evening.

Yost categorized Willingham’s injury as back stiffness. Willingham indicated the discomfort may be related to his intercostal muscles, which reside inside the ribcage and help with movement of the torso.

“I think it’s some kind of muscle between my ribs in there, which is more intercostal,” Willingham said.

There is more clarity on Hosmer’s condition. A wayward fastball from Jon Lester injured him on July 20. A stress fracture was diagnosed 11 days later. Hosmer completed a hitting program last week. He still has not tested his hand on a check-swing, which caused his hand to lose strength before he landed on the disabled list.

But Hosmer still felt confident his health would not hold him back.

“There were a couple awkward swings in Omaha,” Hosmer said. “I swung through a changeup on one, and didn’t feel nothing. There was an off-speed pitch away. I waved the bat to foul it off, and didn’t really feel anything on that, either. Those are definitely good signs.”

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

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