On Thursday afternoon, during his first spring-training game as a Royal, second baseman Omar Infante felt soreness in his right shoulder. He sat out the next two games. Infante indicated the inflammation would require only a few more days of rest, the sort of minor tweak that is far from a cause for alarm during spring training.
“If it was the season, absolutely, he’d be playing,” manager Ned Yost said before a rain-interrupted, 7-3 victory over the Padres at Surprise Stadium. “But with the rain, the weather the way it is, go ahead and let the trainers get it all the way out of there.”
But, at least for the moment, the absence of Infante underscored one slight weakness in this club’s roster: They may break camp without a backup middle infielder.
It is a reality the front office acknowledges, and is willing to live with, considering the stability of Infante and shortstop Alcides Escobar. Infante is more brittle than Escobar. He has never played 150 games in a big-league season. An ankle sprain cost him more than a month of 2013 in Detroit. Escobar averaged 157 games the last three years.
“It’s not ideal not to have a backup middle infielder on the team,” Moore said. “However, I do anticipate Infante and Escobar in the lineup most days.”
Moore stressed that no jobs had been decided yet. For the team, the dilemma is interesting. They appear to possess depth in the outfield and middle infield, but they have little roster flexibility.
Pedro Ciriaco, Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella are all being considered as backup infielders. But none may join the team on opening day in Detroit.
Yost intends to carry 12 pitchers. After accounting for the starting position players, only four spots are available. One belongs to the backup catcher, either Brett Hayes or Ramon Hernandez. Danny Valencia figures to hang on as a corner infielder. The Royals need Jarrod Dyson to back up injury-prone Lorenzo Cain in center field. And Justin Maxwell wields the sort of power needed to make the club as a fifth outfielder, as does Carlos Peguero.
Plus, Maxwell is out of options. Another club probably would claim him on the waiver wire. So the Royals must weigh the possibility of losing Maxwell for the sake of having an emergency middle infielder, one unlikely to be used by Yost.
The schedule works in the Royals’ favor, Moore said. They have six off-days in the first two months. By the summer, when the need for a backup in the lineup becomes more prevalent, the composition of the roster probably will have changed because of the inevitable occurrence of injuries.
The team is working out contingency plans in case a minor injury occurs: Infante can play shortstop. Valencia and Mike Moustakas will work out at second base on occasion. And if a roster move is required, Colon will be stashed in Class AAA Omaha.