The key to the critical questions facing the Royals in the final weekend of spring spend Friday afternoon more than 1,800 miles away from his teammates, testing his balky right elbow in a minor-league game.
The status of second baseman Omar Infante, who could begin the season on the disabled list, brings consequences for the team’s infield configuration, bullpen construction, and the order of their lineup. Infante asked team officials to allow him to stay back at the complex in Surprise, Ariz., rather than join his big-league teammates here.
The team intends to make a decision on Infante’s status after he appears in a minor-league game and takes a series of physical tests on Saturday afternoon. He received a cortisone shot for a bone spur on March 18. He still feels discomfort when he swings a bat. Infante has described the sensation as a “pinch,” one that could keep him from joining his team in Detroit on Monday.
“Right now, I don’t have any feeling, one way or the other,” manager Ned Yost said a few hours before his team played the first of two exhibition games against the Brewers at Miller Park.
If Infante is not ready to begin the season, the team can back-date his stint on the disabled list and activate him on April 6. His absence stings on several levels. Yost intends to replace him in the No. 2 spot in the lineup with Alcides Escobar, the worst everyday hitter in Major League Baseball in 2013. When explaining his reasoning, Yost referenced the necessity of continuity with the rest of the group.
“I’m not going to disrupt my whole lineup when Omar Infante fits that spot,” he said. “I’ve got my guys lined up, where I want them.”
Infante’s replacement in the field will likely be Pedro Ciriaco. He has started the last three games at second, and possesses the defensive prowess necessary to handle the position.
The team experimented with teaching backup third baseman Danny Valencia earlier this spring. But Yost is more comfortable with a seasoned fielder. Ciriaco’s main competition is utility man Jason Donald. His advantage is his roster situation. Ciriaco is out of options. Donald is on a minor-league contract, and must be added to the 40-man roster.
“He’s a natural, up-the-middle player,” Yost said of Ciriaco, who the Royals claimed off waivers from San Diego last summer. “Danny’s not. Donald is. But Ciriaco, if we choose not to take Ciriaco, we lose him.”
The health of reliever Louis Coleman further complicates the scenario. Coleman suffered a bone bruise in his right middle finger at the start of camp. The team attempted to rehabilitee the injury, but Coleman is still unable to command the baseball. Pitching coach Dave Eiland mentioned the end of the first homestand as a realistic date for Coleman’s return.
But Yost has yet to concede Coleman will begin the season on the disabled list. The team could take both Ciriaco and Donald on the roster.
For now, the team waits for word from Infante. Yost left the decision up to Infante, who signed a four-year, $30.25 million deal in the offseason.
His condition cannot deteriorate, Yost said. As general manager Dayton Moore said earlier this week, “There’s a lot of spurs in all these guys out here.” But Infante has never before dealt with this injury.
“It’s new to him,” Yost said. “He’s trying to figure out how to get through it.”
He added, “He knows his body better than anybody. And he’s a 10-year veteran guy, and he knows what he can do, and what he can’t do. I can’t jump in his body and feel what he’s feeling. I don’t know what he’s feeling.
When Infante asked to remain in Arizona, the team acquiesced. The environment is more controlled there. In five innings of a minor-league game, he could take an at-bat during each frame.
Infante undertook that slate on Friday. He will repeat the itinerary on Saturday. Then, Yost hopes, the organization will know how to proceed.
“I don’t have answers until I find out exactly which way we’re going to Infante tomorrow,” Yost said. “Then it will become more clear.”