With one swing, Raul Ibanez demonstrated his potential value to the Royals. On July 2, Ibanez lifted a slider over the elevated right-field wall at Target Field. His first home run served as a harbinger for the ability still found in Ibanez’s 42-year-old body.
But a little less than a week later, the extra-base hit appears like more of a mirage. Ibanez entered Tuesday night’s game against the Rays without a hit in his subsequent 11 at-bats. He struck out four times during that stretch, including twice on Monday at Tropicana Field.
Yet, manager Ned Yost gave Ibanez a start on Tuesday, and he went zero for three in a 4-3 loss. Yost intends to continue to utilize Ibanez until Nori Aoki returns from his rehabilitation assignment for a strained groin muscle.
Yost does not expect Aoki back until after the All-Star break. During the interim, the Royals intend to see what Ibanez has left after being released by the Angels in June.
“In all fairness to him, he wasn’t playing a lot,” Yost said. “And he’s just now getting back in the swing of things. You watch him in batting practice, and you can see. I mean, the guy hit 29 homers last year.”
Ibanez also batted just .157 for Los Angeles. He has taken at-bats away from Jarrod Dyson, who is hitting .298 as a part-time player. Dyson usually replaces Ibanez for defense later in games.
Yost painted the current outfield configuration as a temporary solution. He spoke as if Aoki would reclaim his starting spot in right field upon his return.
“Once Nori comes back, (Ibanez) fits a valuable spot,” Yost said. “He’s a power bat off the bench. He can spell guys in the outfield, can play some first, and stuff.”
Yost remains circumspect about the corresponding roster move to add Aoki back to the roster. He stopped short of committing to carrying five outfielders again, although that appears to be the most feasible scenario. Rookie utility infielder Christian Colon could be optioned back to the minors to clear space.
“When we get there, we’ll make a decision,” Yost said. “We’re not there yet. My experience has been these things always find a way to work themselves out.
“You can plan and preplan and worry. Just get there, and make a decision. That’s the best way to do it.”
Saunders joins Omaha
Looking to avoid a repeat of May 31 in Toronto, when overmatched rookie Aaron Brooks imploded as an emergency starter, the Royals signed veteran left-hander Joe Saunders to a minor-league contract. Saunders will report to Class AAA Omaha.
“He’s a guy that we signed for depth,” Yost said. “He’s a guy that’s had success. He’s a veteran guy in the big leagues.”
The Texas Rangers released Saunders on July 4. His ERA after eight starts with Texas was 6.13. He missed 48 games after being struck by a line drive on April 4.