Looking to boost their offense, the Royals recalled utilityman Whit Merrifield from Class AAA Omaha on Tuesday, immediately putting him into the starting lineup in right field against the San Francisco Giants.
Merrifield, 28, hit .412 with three home runs during his nine-game stint with the Storm Chasers.
“He’s hot. Simple as that. He’s hitting .400,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ll just try to capitalize on him being hot, get a little more offense going.”
Merrifield replaces right-handed pitcher Jake Junis, who was optioned to Omaha on Sunday evening.
The Royals’ offensive struggles in right field were one reason for the move. In his first 11 games, Paulo Orlando was 5 for 39 (.128 average) with no extra-base hits and a .171 on-base percentage.
Merrifield gave KC’s offense a temporary boost last season, hitting .283 with a .323 on-base percentage, though his best production came immediately after he was called up in mid-May.
“I know what I’m capable of up here,” Merrifield said. “There’s a sense of confidence there.
“There’s going to be butterflies (Tuesday), but it won’t be near what it was last year.”
The Royals’ 3.2 runs per game before Tuesday ranked 29th in baseball, ahead of only Toronto (2.8). Yost was hopeful Merrifield could provide a spark.
“He was swinging the bat really well. He got three more hits the other day,” Yost said. “We’ll see.”
Merrifield entered spring training as a likely favorite to make the club, either as a second baseman or bench player. But he was ensnared in a roster crunch at the end of camp.
The Royals opted to go with 21-year-old Raul Mondesi at second base following a breakout spring performance. They also selected infielder Christian Colon over Merrifield, in part because Colon, 27, is out of options and would need to pass waivers in order to be sent to Omaha.
Mondesi entered Tuesday batting .125 (4 for 32) with a solo homer in 12 games. He has struck out 10 times while drawing one walk. Colon is hitless in five plate appearances while making two starts at second base. He has drawn one walk.
The Royals opted to carry eight relievers last week after optioning struggling left-hander Matt Strahm to Omaha and outfielder Terrance Gore to Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
The performance of starting pitcher Ian Kennedy on Sunday and a day off Monday could ease the need for eight relievers. Kennedy delivered eight innings in a 1-0 victory over the Angels. Closer Kelvin Herrera worked one inning while picking up the win.
Royals outfielder Jorge Soler experienced some discomfort in his oblique over the weekend, with Yost saying the team gave him an additional day off.
“We’ll see how he feels (Tuesday),” Yost said. “It was a little tightness. It wasn’t a setback.”
Soler, who was acquired for closer Wade Davis in an offseason trade with the Cubs, hit .238 last year with 12 home runs in 86 games.
Yost was asked if Soler could go out on a rehab assignment by the weekend.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.