On the heels of a .500 season and entering a pivotal year in 2017, the Royals are hoping for a fast start in April. Manager Ned Yost believes the fastest Royal can be a key piece of the early puzzle.
It was that reason, among others, that Terrance Gore, a 25-year-old outfielder and pinch-running specialist, took one of the final remaining roster spots as the club officially set its 25-man roster on Sunday.
Yost said the decision was simple.
“He’s a big weapon,” Yost said. “We don’t pinch hit much. But we do have the ability to pinch run. So it’s a big weapon. You use it while you can.”
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The Royals will open the 2017 season at 3:10 p.m. Monday, beginning a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The framework for the 25-man roster was mostly in place Saturday night, after the club optioned utility man Whit Merrifield to Class AAA Omaha.
Infielder Christian Colon beat out Merrifield for one of the final bench spots. Outfielder Jorge Soler, who is recovering from an oblique strain, was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to March 30. Reliever Peter Moylan, who signed a minor-league contract in February, was officially added to the roster and rounds out the seven-man bullpen.
To create space on the 40-man roster for Moylan, the club recalled prospect Hunter Dozier from Class AAA Omaha and placed him on the 60-day disabled list. Dozier sustained a Grade 2 oblique strain late last week in Arizona. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, Yost said.
Dozier, 25, was expected to spend most of the season at Omaha, so the move represented some creative roster maneuvering. He will not be able to play in major-league games until June. But he can begin playing in extended spring training games once he is healthy. He can also begin a minor-league rehab assignment at Omaha — or another level — after he spends 40 days on the disabled list.
In all, most of the roster moves were expected after the Royals began signaling their interest in including Gore on the opening day roster. A veteran of two postseason runs, Gore offers game-changing speed, a tool that is missing from the bench after the departure of outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
Gore said Sunday that Yost notified him he had made the team late last week. He appeared eager for the pinch-running assignment.
“I’ll be ready,” Gore said. “I’m healthy. I’m ready to go. I’m fresh as ever.”
Gore’s skill set remains mostly one-dimensional, though club officials have praised his improvement in the outfield. But for now, Yost believes Gore’s one elite tool — his speed — could help the team win one to two extra games during the early weeks of the season.
“I don’t care if they get it or they don’t,” Yost said, speaking of those who might question Gore’s value. “He’s a weapon. He’s more valuable on our team than having a pinch hitter right now.”
The inclusion of Gore was made possible, in part, by the injury to Soler, acquired in the offseason for closer Wade Davis. It also meant that Merrifield was likely headed back to Omaha after a solid rookie season. Merrifield accompanied the Royals to Minnesota on Sunday as a precautionary measure against a late injury. But he will head out for his minor-league assignment on Monday.
In the end, Merrifield lost out to Colon, a former first-round pick and postseason hero who entered this season with no options left. The reality of no options meant that Colon had to make the 25-man roster or be placed on waivers, where he could have been claimed by another team. His inclusion on the roster offered a measure of relief, he said.
“A sense of relief for sure,” Colon said, “that I’m here and that I can help this team.”
It remains possible that Merrifield could be summoned back to the big-league club if — and when — the Royals need to carry an extra pitcher.
In that scenario, Yost has said, Merrifield’s versatility would be more valuable. It could also mean that Gore’s time with the Royals could be limited. For how long? It’s hard to say. But for now, Yost is happy to have the speed option at his disposal.
“Are we going to be able to keep it all year? Probably not,” Yost said. “We’re going to need that 13th pitcher here somewhere down the road.”
Royals opening day roster
1. Alex Gordon, LF
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
5. Salvador Perez, C
6. Brandon Moss, DH
7. Paulo Orlando, RF
8. Alcides Escobar, SS
9. Raul Mondesi, 2B
Drew Butera, C
Cheslor Cuthbert, INF
Terrance Gore, OF
Christian Colon, INF
Danny Duffy, LHP
Ian Kennedy, RHP
Jason Hammel, RHP
Jason Vargas, LHP
Nathan Karns, RHP
Kelvin Herrera, RHP
Joakim Soria, RHP
Matt Strahm, LHP
Mike Minor, LHP
Travis Wood, LHP
Chris Young, RHP
Peter Moylan, RHP
On disabled list
Jorge Soler, OF
Hunter Dozier, OF
Brian Flynn, LHP