Mired in an offensive black hole, Royals manager Ned Yost juggled his lineup on Sunday, moving the struggling Alex Gordon down to sixth in the order and inserting Whit Merrifield into the leadoff spot. He also put rookie outfielder Jorge Bonifacio into the No. 3 spot while center fielder Lorenzo Cain took a scheduled day off.
The moves came after three straight losses here in Texas and a week of brutal offensive production. The Royals entered Sunday having scored just seven runs in their last six games. They are averaging a major-league worst 2.59 runs per game after 17 contests.
“It came to a point last night: Just try something different,” Yost said on Sunday morning. “Alex has been struggling. [Brandon Moss] been struggling. Whit’s been swinging the bat well. [Mike Moustakas] has been producing. Just try something different.”
Gordon is batting just .176 after going three for 24 in his last six games. Eric Hosmer, who remained in the cleanup spot, is hitting .185 after starting the series 1 for 11.
“Our offense right now has obviously been struggling,” Yost said. “We’ll just try to get a little something going at the top of the order.”
The Sunday lineup took on a different look as Salvador Perez missed another day with a stiff neck and Cain drew his first off day of the season. Cain has been the club’s most productive offensive player, batting .333 with a .452 on-base percentage in 17 games. Yet Yost sees value in keeping him fresh.
“We’re just making sure that he doesn’t get worn down,” Yost said. “He works very diligently on his conditioning and his maintenance. So I’ve been looking at this day for three or four days.”
The absence of Cain and the recent demotion of Paulo Orlando to Class AAA Omaha left a hole in center field. Merrifield has experience at all three outfield spots, while Gordon played in center field during spring training. But Yost opted for Bonifacio, who drew an endorsement from Rusty Kuntz, the club’s outfield coach. Bonifacio has made 71 starts in center field during his minor-league career, though 69 of those came in 2010 and 2011. The other two came last season.
“It’s not a big deal,” Bonifacio said. “It’s not a big difference.”
After making his major-league debut on Friday, Bonifacio becomes the first Royals player to start and bat third in the lineup within the first two games of his career since Jeff Conine in 1990, according to the Royals.