The receipt from Monday took the form of a brace wrapped around Alex Rios’ broken left hand. Rios kept it at his side inside the Royals clubhouse as he relayed his irritation with the Minnesota Twins and their Rule 5 relief pitcher, J.R. Graham Graham injured with him a wayward baseball.
Rios did not derive malice from the actions of Graham, a rookie who was playing in his fourth big-league game. With the bases loaded in Monday’s eighth inning, Graham flung a 93-mph fastball that struck Rios.
The pitch fractured the fifth metacarpal in Rios’ left hand, the bone beneath his pinky finger. It was a nondisplaced fracture. The team has not set an official timetable for his return, but a month without Rios looks likely.
“It’s very frustrating when you get inexperienced pitchers coming to the mound and showing a lot of energy, and not being able to control their emotions,” Rios said before Wednesday night’s game against the Twins at Target Field. “I think that’s a recipe for disaster, when you have guys like that, high-energy guys without being able to control their emotions. Then you put them in high-pressure situations, and they just don’t know what to do, I guess. Things like this happen.”
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“So it’s very frustrating. They have to understand if somebody is ready to be in these kind of situations, or even here.”
He added, “You have to understand who is ready to play in the game, to call up, to have in the big leagues. But like I said, you should be able to control your emotions and to have control of the situation.”
Rios maintained his calm as he spoke. At 34, he exudes a dignified presence inside the Royals clubhouse. But because of Graham’s wildness, Rios can only aid his club off the field until next month at the earliest. Rios probably will not attempt any baseball activities for the next two weeks. In the interim, Kansas City will form a platoon in right field with Jarrod Dyson and rookie Paulo Orlando.
Rios became the 12th Royal to be hit by a pitch in the season’s first seven games. The outbreak has caught the attention of the team’s players and coaching staff, but members of the team are reluctant to assign intent. Save for the White Sox’s Jeff Samaradzija plunking Lorenzo Cain on opening day, the overwhelming majority of incidents have involved middle relievers missing inside.
The numbers suggest a league-wide issue, rather than opponents targeting the Royals. Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Royals were tied with Texas for the most hit batters in baseball. But seven Red Sox had been hit, seven Orioles had been struck and six Yankees had been plunked.
“Obviously it’s frustrating when one of your big-time players gets hurt like that,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “It’s probably not on purpose, unless maybe Cain’s was on purpose. It’s just part of the game. If you don’t get hurt, the good thing is, you get on base.”
Gordon and third baseman Mike Moustakas led the club with four hit-by-pitches heading into Wednesday night. Both are left-handed batters who can wield power if pitches are out over the plate.
General manager Dayton Moore also speculated the proliferation of plunkings stemmed from pitchers trying to combat the bevy of Kansas City base runners.
“I think teams are trying to pitch us inside,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of slide-stepping going on. A lot of guys are using the slide-step to try to control the running game. When that happens, pitchers tend to miss arm side.
“I don’t think anybody is necessarily throwing at us intentionally. They’re just trying to make pitches. It’s just one of those deals right now.”
Yet, the Royals remain aware of the phenomenon. After White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana hit Cain in the season’s second game, pitcher Danny Duffy threw behind the head of designated hitter Adam LaRoche. Duffy declined to assign intention in that instance, but indicated a pitching staff must protect their teammates.
“It’s something that’s hard to speak on, because it’s got to be policed,” Duffy said. “In the same breath, I’ve had my fair share of misses up and in, too, that I didn’t mean to throw up and in. You want to go in off the plate, you want to utilize that part of the plate, and if a ball takes off on you, it’s hard to sit there and defend it. Because you want to act like you meant to throw it there, regardless of where it went.”
The Royals will continue to monitor the situation. They cannot openly admit plans for retaliation. But if the trend continues, their pitchers may be forced to react.
Until then, they must carry on without Rios, their $11 million right fielder. Both Graham and Minnesota manager Paul Molitor expressed remorse for his injury.
“You hate to see anybody get hurt,” Molitor said.
“When you see that happen, it sucks,” Graham said, “I hope he has a speedy recovery, and I wish him the best.”
The sympathy can only fix so much. Rios will spend his next few weeks waiting for the strength in his hand to return, and waiting for a chance to get back into the batter’s box. He hopes to face players who can handle the pressure created by the big leagues.
“We prepare ourselves during the offseason, during spring training, to play 162 games,” Rios said. “And when you have to miss time because of accidents like this, it’s frustrating. There’s not much you can do.”