On Monday, Royals outfielder Alex Rios will celebrate the four-week anniversary of the broken bone in his left hand. The team’s training staff hopes the celebration includes a gradual increase of the activities he has begun in recent days to test the strength and functionality of his hand.
Rios, who was injured in the seventh game of the season, appears to be capable of returning by the end of May.
He has been able to catch softly lobbed baseballs. Rios has also started taking light swings with a fungo bat. He has not begun to make contact, but trainer Nick Kenney hopes Rios can reach that milestone by next week.
Kenney also indicated Rios was “on track” to play in a game by the six-week mark of his rehabilitation.
“Our hope was that somewhere between four and five weeks we would be able to introduce to him striking a ball,” Kenney said before the Royals finished their series with the Tigers on Sunday. “I feel that that will happen.”
He added, “We threw a timeline out of four to six weeks for a return. Meaning ‘a return to a competitive game.’ Whether that’s at this level, or in a rehab assignment, that was our hope.”
Manager Ned Yost has indicated Rios will likely require at-bats in the minors to become acclimated to live pitching. Rios can swing a fungo bat because it is lighter and has a thinner handle, and it places less stress on his hand.
“It feels good,” Rios said. “I think I’m moving along well. I think we are where we’re expected to be.”
Yost admitted the club has missed Rios during the last month. The loss of Rios has become more noticeable as April turned to May. His two replacements, Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, continue to provide quality defense. But the offensive dropoff has been stark.
Before Twins reliever J.R. Graham injured him with a fastball, Rios was hitting .321 with eight RBIs in seven games. Dyson, who started in right field on Sunday, entered the game hitting .214 with a .536 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Even so, Dyson continues to face the majority of right-handed pitchers, given a recent slump by Orlando.
Orlando captured the public’s imagination by slashing triples for the first three hits of his career. He hit five in seven games. But Orlando, a 29-year-old rookie from Brazil, has been cold for weeks. Since Rios landed on the disabled list, Orlando had hit .220 with a .563 OPS in 17 games.
“He’s a young guy in his first year in the big leagues,” Yost said. “What’s he hitting, .270? That ain’t bad.”
Inside the visiting manager’s office at Comerica Park, Yost consulted a pack of statistics on his desk.
“Yeah, .239,” Yost said, with a slight grin cracking his veneer. “That’s close to .270.”
Yost added, “As you can tell, I don’t really look at the averages too much. Can he help us win ballgames? He’s been doing that.”
The Royals also lack an alternative. They can only wait for Rios’ non-displaced fracture to heal.
“We’re literally going day by day,” Kenney said. “Understand that there’s a time frame for bone healing that we cannot speed up.”
Yost does not ask Kenney questions about Rios. He doesn’t consider it worthwhile. The 25 members of his active roster pose enough challenges. He knows his club needs Rios. A return looks like it’s still a couple of weeks away.
“We want to get him back,” Yost said. “But it’s a process. When he gets back, he gets back. You can’t hurry it.”