Omar Infante waited five innings under the Arizona sun for an opportunity like this. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Giants outfielder Justin Maxwell rolled a grounder up the middle. Infante readied himself to turn a double play and test his right elbow with a throw for the first time in a big-league game this spring.
Infante stepped toward second base as Christian Colon scooped up the ball at shortstop. Then he watched Colon wave him off and fire the ball to first base on his own.
“He told me ‘I’m going to touch the base, because I don’t want you to throw,’ ” Infante said afterward with a smile.
Thus ended Infante’s lone chance to see how the bone spur in his elbow will affect his fielding. He returned to second base on Monday after missing the first three weeks of games in the field but went an entire afternoon without using his right arm to throw.
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It was not his first action this spring with the big-league club. Infante has been able to get at-bats as a designated hitter. He collected two hits on Monday, including a two-run double, and boosted his Cactus League batting average to .333. But Infante is still regaining strength and accuracy in his throwing arm.
“I want to be 100 percent,” Infante said. “I’m not 100 percent yet at second base. But hitting, I’m 100 percent. And I want to be 100 percent when I’m playing second base.
Infante said he no longer feels pain when he throws. But, he added, “I don’t feel the power in my elbow.” He indicated he required about nine more games in the field to store that strength.
Manager Ned Yost intends to give Infante that opportunity. He plans to play Infante often in the field during the final week in Arizona.
“It was good seeing Omar out in the field,” Yost said. “He had some really good at-bats. A big, two-run double, which was good to see. So making progress there, too.”
In his first year of a four-year, $30.25 million contract, Infante became one of the least-productive hitters in baseball. He finished 2014 with a .632 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, which ranked 139th among the 146 players who qualified for the batting title.
Infante never found his footing in 2014. He experienced nagging pains in his right shoulder and right elbow during spring training. In April, he absorbed a fastball to the face and suffered a sprained jaw. He slipped a disk in May and spent time on the disabled list. After the All Star break, his shoulder nagged at him.
His production disappeared in the second half. In the final two months of the season, Infante hit .229 with a .560 OPS. The pain in his shoulder shifted from the back of the joint to the front. He stopped practicing double-play turns before games. Infante grimaced on most throws, completed most of them in a side-arm fashion and ceased flinging the ball around the diamond after his pitchers recorded a strikeout.
The club’s medical staff propped him up as best they could. He received a cortisone injection in August. By October, he said he was taking oral dosages of the painkiller Toradol.
Infante did not undergo any surgical procedures during the winter. But an MRI discovered a bone spur in his elbow earlier this month. The team has been careful to rest his arm ever since. Infante is still optimistic about his ability to contribute in 2015.
“I felt happy to be back,” Infante said. “I’m feeling stronger in my shoulder and my elbow. I’m working every day.”