Nori Aoki closer to returning to Royals’ lineup

06/29/2014 6:22 PM

06/29/2014 6:22 PM

Nori Aoki began his Sunday playing catch on the outfield grass of Kauffman Stadium. He ended the afternoon hanging out on the periphery of the postgame mob for walk-off hero Omar Infante. By the end of the Royals’ upcoming road trip, it is possible he will play a more active role during the events in between.

Aoki (groin strain) will join the team in Minnesota for the first leg of this nine-game trip. He is eligible to return from the disabled list on July 6, the final game against the Indians in Cleveland. Aoki indicated it was possible he could be ready for the final three nights in Florida against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Manager Ned Yost stressed Aoki would require a few games on a rehabilitation assignment to get acclimated to live pitching. Aoki has been able to take swings in the cage and do some light running.

“At this point, I’m fine right now,” Aoki said through his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji. “But I still haven’t ran 100 percent. I’m getting to that point, though.”

With Aoki out, Yost has utilized Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell in the outfield. Yost initially hoped to platoon them. But Dyson started on Sunday against left-hander C.J. Wilson, because Maxwell has proved ineffective.

“Maxwell is struggling,” Yost said. “He’s not hitting real well right now.”

That is something of an understatement. Maxwell has notched two singles in 11 at-bats since returning from Class AAA Omaha on June 21. For the year, he is hitting .150 with one extra-base hit.

Finnegan throws, then heads out

A flight awaited Brandon Finnegan on Monday morning, the first leg on a trip to Class A Wilmington. But Finnega, the team’s first-round pick in this month’s draft, stopped by the ballpark on Sunday morning, and threw a bullpen session.

Yost was one curious observer.

“He had a nice change-up,” Yost said. “A nice slider. Nice two-seamer, nice fastball. Kept the ball down, commanded the ball pretty good. He looks like he’s a real competitor. He looks like he’s got a lot of passion for what he’s doing.”

The team projects Finnegan can throw about 45 to 50 innings in his first professional season. The 5-11 left-hander from Texas Christian University threw 1052/3 frames for a Horned Frogs team that reached the College World Series.

Now he faces the challenge of professional hitters. Yost understands how far the climb can last.

“When you’re in college, you’re concerned with probably the No. 3 and the No. 4 hitter,” Yost said. “Now, where he’s going, the whole lineup’s going to be college No. 3 and No. 4 hitters. And it’s going to continue to be like that.

“But it’s fun. He’s anxious to get going. He’s anxious to start competing. And make his way here to the big leagues.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/McCulloughStar.

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