For weeks, the Royals survived with just one reserve infielder on their 25-man roster. As the club prepared for two interleague series during an upcoming West Coast road trip, manager Ned Yost was ready for more depth.
The Royals on Wednesday recalled infielder Ramon Torres from Class AAA Omaha and optioned outfielder Billy Burns back to the minors. Torres, 24, possesses the ability to play shortstop and second base. The move, however, will not mean any reduction in playing time for shortstop Alcides Escobar, Yost said.
“It’s really simple,” Yost said, explaining the roster moves during a pregame interview. “Infield depth.”
In another roster move, the club reinstated reliever Scott Alexander from the disabled list and optioned right-hander Kevin McCarthy to Omaha.
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Torres, a native of the Dominican Republic, made his major-league debut on Wednesday by starting at second base. Whit Merrifield moved to left field, while Alex Gordon was out of the lineup in anticipation of facing Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Moments before the game, Keuchel was scratched because of an illness.
Torres, who was originally signed by the Royals as an amateur free agent, was batting .327 with five homers in 53 games at Omaha. He possesses defensive versatility in the middle of the field. But Yost stated multiple times Wednesday that the arrival of Torres would not result in any additional days off for Escobar, who entered Wednesday batting .177 with a .201 on-base percentage while starting all 57 games in 2017.
“When is the last time Esky needed a day off — 240 days ago?” Yost asked.
When a reporter followed by asking if he saw any value in an occasional day off for a struggling offensive player, Yost remained consistent.
“I see no value in it — none.” Yost said. “There’s more to this game than just the offense. There’s more value to a player’s position in that lineup than swinging the bat. Do I want him swinging the bat better? Yes. Do I think he can swing the bat better? Yes. Do I think he will swing the bat better? Yes. But I’ll take the defense right now.”
Yost pointed to a sensational defensive play by Escobar that saved a run in the top of the ninth inning on Tuesday. Minutes later, the Royals recorded a 9-7 victory over Houston after a walk-off homer by Mike Moustakas.
Yost, however, sees value in an extra infielder. More specifically, he said the arrival of Torres would allow him to use Moustakas or Cheslor Cuthbert at the designated hitter spot without forgoing a backup infielder.
“When I’ve got Cuthbert at third and Moose DH’ing, if any of my infielders get hurt, I don’t have a reserve,” Yost said. “I don’t have a guy that can play second; I don’t have a guy that can play short. I don’t really have a backup infielder.”
“In National League games, if I want to pinch hit Cuthbert and Moose is playing, I have a backup infielder.”
Yost said the Royals opted for Torres over Raul Mondesi because the club prefers that Mondesi continue playing every day at Omaha.
For Torres, the promotion comes amid the best offensive season of his career. After a breakout performance in the Dominican winter league, he posted a .794 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) in his first 211 at-bats. The number is nearly 100 points higher than his career average (.695) in the minor leagues.
“This is the first year that he started really hot, and he attributes that to winter ball,” said Luis Perez, the Royals’ assistant major-league strength coach, who translated for Torres. “It was really good for him.”
On Tuesday evening, Torres said, he received word from Omaha manager Brian Poldberg that he was being called up to the big leagues for the first time. He immediately phoned his mother, who began crying over the phone.
“He’s been dreaming about this moment since he was a kid,” Perez said. “And he’s very thankful to God for giving him the opportunity.”
The Royals, meanwhile, shifted out a tired arm for a fresh one in exchanging McCarthy for Alexander, who was rehabbing in Omaha. McCarthy had pitched in three of four games, including 2 1/3 scoreless innings Tuesday night. Alexander came back a day earlier than planned, but he was available to pitch on Wednesday.
Alexander, 27, was becoming a reliable member of the Royals’ bullpen before tweaking his hamstring during a cardio workout on May 8 during a series at Tampa Bay. He posted a 1.26 ERA in 14 1/3 innings across 10 appearances. He also recorded eight strikeouts against four walks.