For days, the Royals stressed patience with second baseball Raul Mondesi. He was not the root problem for a struggling offense, Ned Yost said. He was here to play defense and develop at the major-league level.
The argument was convincing, yet it crumbled as Mondesi continued to flail away at the plate. By early Friday morning, the Royals could afford to practice patience no longer.
The club optioned Mondesi to Class AAA Omaha as part of a series of roster moves. They also sent scuffling outfielder Paulo Orlando to Omaha, while recalling outfielder Jorge Bonifacio and reliever Matt Strahm.
“He was starting to get overwhelmed a little bit,” Yost said. “He was putting way too much pressure on himself. You could see it in his face a little bit.”
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Mondesi had gone 0 for 15 in his last five games. His batting average had sank to .103. Along with Orlando, he ranked in the bottom seven in the American League in Weighted Runs Created Plus, an advanced metric that measures total offense, according to FanGraphs.com.
The decision came just days after Yost playfully scoffed at those concerned about Mondesi’s offensive production.
“For us to sit here and overanalyze Mondesi, his batting average,” Yost said, “it’s ridiculous.”
But the organizational view began to shift as the Royals’ offense continued its anemic start and Mondesi began to beat himself up mentally.
“We go with guys until they start to get overwhelmed,” Yost said. “And then it’s time to let them go back and hit reset. He was getting overwhelmed.”
The moves come after a 7-8 start defined by elite starting pitching and quiet offense. They also illustrate a sense of urgency at the major-league level. The Royals sought to develop Mondesi, a 21-year-old second baseman, in the big leagues after he won a starting job in spring training. But after a 1-0 loss to the Rangers on Thursday, he was batting .103 and had struck out 16 times in 39 at-bats.
The search for more offense also served as the catalyst for Orlando’s return trip to Omaha. Orlando batted .302 with a .329 on-base percentage in 128 games last season. But he opened the 2017 season with just seven hits in his first 47 at-bats. The Royals also cited declining contact rates for the demotion, especially at pitches outside the strike zone.
“He was just struggling,” Yost said. “He’s a big part of our offense. He hit .300 for us. But right now, he’s just in a severe funk.
“Fifty percent of his swings and misses weren’t even at pitches that were in the strike zone. He’s not seeing the ball.”
Searching for production in right field, the Royals tapped Bonifacio, a right-handed hitter who started in right and made his major-league debut on Friday night.
Bonifacio, 23, was batting .314 with a .608 slugging percentage in 13 games at Omaha. He hit three homers while recording two triples and two doubles. He has also limited his strikeouts, Yost said.
Bonifacio positioned himself as a possible next man up after a strong spring training, backing up a solid offensive season at Omaha in 2016.
“If we were swinging the bats, if the middle of the order was being productive, we could work through Paulo here,” Yost said. “But we can’t.”
The Royals originally signed Bonifacio, a native of the Domincan Republic, as an international free agent on Dec. 9, 2009. His older brother Emilio played 42 games for Kansas City in 2013. The Bonifacios become the third set of brothers to play for the franchise, joining George and Ken Brett and Tony Pena Jr. and Francisco Pena.
“I called him last night,” Bonifacio said of his brother. “He was, I think, more excited than me. Because he’s knows how that feels. He’s excited that I’m here. I get into the big leagues; I got a call up.”
Bonifacio will likely slot into regular playing time in right field, while Whit Merrifield could see additional time at second. Merrifield could also log starts in the outfield, Yost said, while Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert handle second base. For now, Merrifield or Alex Gordon will project as the club’s backup center fielder behind Lorenzo Cain.
The other roster addition was Strahm, who was eligible to return after an early-season demotion April 11. He threw five scoreless innings in four appearances for Omaha. He offered a taxed bullpen an eighth arm.
Strahm said he worked on a mechanical adjustment after pitching coach Dave Eiland detected a “glove tap” during his delivery that was causing his arm to be late. Strahm issued zero walks during his stint at Omaha.
“It was something I wanted to get fixed and get fixed quick,” Strahm said. “Dave helped me right before I went down.”