With Alex Gordon sidelined for the foreseeable future, the remaining Royals outfielders will have to increase their production in the second half of the season if the team wants to mirror its first-half success.
And after struggling mightily for the majority of the season, right fielder Alex Rios is ready to answer the bell.
In Saturday’s 6-2 loss to Toronto, Rios was one for three and was hit by a pitch. He doubled to left field against starter Mark Buehrle for his second double in as many games, and scored a run in the seventh inning that cut the Blue Jays’ lead to 3-2.
“I’m doing what I have to do,” Rios said. “I’m focusing on seeing the ball and trying to put good swings on it.”
Rios essentially manufactured that run with his legs. Instead of settling for a single on his line drive to left, he hustled and slid into second. When the next batter, Omar Infante, flew out to center field, Rios tagged up and went to third, allowing him to score on Paulo Orlando’s grounder to short.
Signed to a one-year, $11 million deal, Rios hit .321 in his first seven games of the season before a broken left hand from being hit by a pitch sidelined him from April 13 to May 31.
“He was swinging the bat so well before he broke his hand coming out of spring training,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Sometimes it just takes time to get back into that groove, and it looks like he’s starting to get there.”
Since returning from the disabled list, Rios is hitting .216 with no home runs and five RBIs in 34 games. But over his last seven games, he is hitting .333 with two doubles and has stolen a pair of bases.
This comes at a time when the team needs improved production from Rios. Given the long-term absence of Gordon, Yost has only four outfielders to juggle while making sure he’s giving his players proper rest.
Rios’ recent success at the plate has reflected the Royals’ winning ways — the team is 5-2 in the last week.
“When you sit out for six weeks, and especially when you break your hand, you lose strength in your hand,” Yost said. “The more you play, the more strength you get in that hand and the more comfortable it becomes. Then your timing starts to come in behind it and you start putting good swings on the ball.”
Rios said when he initially came back, there was still pain in his hand, but it has since subsided.
“You have to get over the hump of getting all of the pain out of the way and being able to focus at the same time,” Rios said. “It’s something you have to work through.”
It took Rios until June 15 to get his third extra-base hit of the season, but he has cracked two in two days, a signal of returning power for a player whohad 165 home runs in 11 seasons before this year.
Rios and some of his teammates will get time off next week for the All-Star break, which he’ll welcome despite heating up this past week.
“We’ve been playing for three or four months already, and four days (off), I don’t think is going to make a big difference in timing and stuff,” Rios said. “It’s good for our bodies and it’s good for us to come back refreshed.”