In a 2-1 loss on Tuesday night, Royals second baseman Raul Mondesi finished 0 for 3 and struck out twice with runners on base in the late innings. On Wednesday, he was out of the lineup as the club prepared to face Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in the finale of a two-game set.
As he sat inside his office Wednesday afternoon, Royals manager Ned Yost said the two pieces of information had little connection. The club opted for Whit Merrifield, a right-handed hitter, at second base against the left-handed Bumgarner. The team also inserted right-handed hitter Cheslor Cuthbert at designated hitter.
The Royals remain comfortable with Mondesi in his current role as the club’s every-day second baseman, Yost said.
“For right now,” Yost said. “We evaluate every day. Mondi is not the issue. You guys want to make him an issue, but he’s not the issue. If we got to worry about Mondi driving in runs in the nine-hole, we’re in trouble. Mondi’s here for his defense and to develop as a major-league player.”
The vote of confidence comes as the Royals' offense continues to lag during a 6-7 start. Mondesi, 21, has been slow to get on track. Yet he is far from the only hole in the current lineup.
In 13 games, he is batting just .114 with a .162 on-base percentage. He has collected four hits in 35 at-bats while striking out 13 times. He has produced just one extra-base hit, a homer, while drawing two walks.
Yet, as the Royals prepared to face the Giants before embarking on a seven-game road trip, Yost preferred to shift the focus to a struggling group of regulars.
First baseman Eric Hosmer entered Wednesday batting just .200 with one extra-base hit. Left fielder Alex Gordon is hitting .192 with three doubles and zero homers. Designated hitter Brandon Moss has popped two homers — and has just five total hits. The Royals entered Wednesday with just 39 runs in 13 games, the lowest total in the majors.
“The guys from 1-8 (in the lineup) are the guys that have to do the majority of the production,” Yost said. “And for us to sit here and overanalyze Mondesi, his batting average. It’s ridiculous. It makes zero sense.”
As Yost spoke, his tone ranged somewhere between playful and argumentative. He was steadfast, yet not defensive. He emphasized that it has been just 13 games. And the Royals, he said, did not expect Mondesi to be a force with his bat. He earned the starting second base job during spring training with a versatile skill set that includes elite speed and exceptional range on defense.
“Going into this, we weren’t counting on Mondi to carry the load offensively,” Yost said. “We expected him to play high-quality defense with his range and his athleticism and just see where he went.”
That said, the Royals perhaps did not expect Mondesi to begin the season with just four hits in his first 35 at-bats, a start that has raised some red flags. The performance comes after a rookie season in which Mondesi batted just .185 in 135 at-bats. The production level has raised questions about his major-league readiness.
Yost spent a few minutes Wednesday pushing back against that idea. He cited batted-ball statistics that shine a more positive light on Mondesi’s start. He pointed again to the struggling veterans.
The difference, of course, is that the Royals have few alternatives for players such as Hosmer and Gordon, players with track records and iconic postseason moments. The club does have options at second base, including Merrifield and some combination of Christian Colon and Cuthbert.
For the moment, the Royals remain in win-now mode, hoping to take advantage of perhaps the final season of a championship core. The circumstances have raised the stakes during the opening months. But on Wednesday, Yost doubled down on the idea that Mondesi offers the best chance to win while also developing in the major leagues.
“We do want to win,” Yost said. “We feel like he’s going to help us win defensively. And if you’re leaning on his offense, you’re barking up the wrong tree. That’s a job for Sal and Moss and Hos and Esky and Gordon … Moose. They’re the run producers.”
To complicate matters, Mondesi has not been perfect with his glove. He has made sparking plays, but he has also suffered through mistakes. In Yost’s view, the performance has ranged from “really good” to “sloppy.” But that, too, is part of the transition, he said.
“He’s a shortstop,” Yost said. “Second base is a little bit different to him. But he’s so athletic, he handles it.”
The Royals have also been encouraged by data from MLB’s Statcast system. Last week, Mondesi charted hard-hit balls — a 95 mph exit velocity or above — on 54.6 percent of his balls in play. That ranked second on the team. This is perhaps an indictment of the current offense, but nonetheless, for the season, Mondesi trails only Moss in the statistic, making hard contact on 40 percent of his balls in play.
The problem, of course, is that Mondesi has struggled to make contact, striking out in 31.7 percent of his plate appearances. The Royals remain hopeful that will change with time and development.
“You got to look at reality here,” Yost said, “instead of just grasping at Mondi punching out twice last night for a big storyline.”