Outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field, an attendant scrawled a new Royals lineup in black ink. Inside the room, the team prepared to finish a nine-game road trip on Wednesday and return home for a critical series without left fielder Alex Gordon, their most valuable position player, and Jason Vargas, their most reliable starting pitcher.
Gordon sat in front of his locker, a rare location for him during his carefully-regimented pre-game routine. He skipped his usual activity on Wednesday due to a nagging sprain in his right wrist. The injury scratched him from starting Wednesday’s game, earned him an appointment with team doctors and an MRI tube today and effectively ruled him out for this weekend’s four games against Detroit.
“I can’t swing,” Gordon said. “That’s when it hurts.”
As a contrast, the locker of Vargas was vacated. Its inhabitant lay in a local hospital, awaiting surgery on his appendix on Wednesday. He will not return to Kansas City until Friday at the earliest. Manager Ned Yost expects Bruce Chen to start in Vargas’ place on Sunday against the Tigers. Vargas could miss three to four weeks as he recovers, trainer Nick Kenney said.
An optimist would suggest these injuries are occurring at an opportune time. The All-Star Game disrupts the schedule next week, and allows for recovery time without games missed. A pessimist would point out the proximity of this weekend’s series with the division-leading Tigers — and remind that a return date has not been set for either player.
Each is vital to this club’s cause. Gordon powered the offense during their surge last month, and earlier this week earned a spot on the All-Star team for the second year in a row. Vargas leads the team with 125 innings pitched. His 3.31 ERA is the best of his career.
The team’s hand specialist will inspect Gordon today. For a hitter, a wrist injury is worrisome. Even so, Yost insisted after Wednesday’s 5-4 victory that he did not expect Gordon would require time on the disabled list. He predicted Gordon would receive an injection to combat the inflammation in his wrist, sit out the four games against Detroit and receive additional rest during the All Star break.
“I’m pretty confident that it’s not going to be anything long-lasting,” said Gordon, who came in as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning Wednesday.
Gordon was unsure if he would be able to play in the Midsummer Classic. He insisted his availability for the Royals was more important than a chance to shine at Target Field.
“I want to be ready for Detroit,” he said. “If I’m not, then I probably can be ready for the All Star Game.”
On Sunday, Chen could start for the first time since being shellacked for five runs in 4 1/3 innings on April 24. If Chen struggles, another option could be John Lamb, the former top prospect, who has posted a 3.08 ERA in his last 10 starts with Class AAA Omaha.
An exact timetable for Vargas could not be crafted until he underwent the procedure. He pitched without incident on Tuesday night. He awoke Wednesday around 4 a.m. with severe discomfort in his abdomen. Kenney drove him to St. Anthony’s Hospital at 11:30 a.m. A CT scan revealed inflammation in his appendix.
The findings could have been worse. The appendix did not burst, Kenney said. The resulting procedure was performed laproscopically and was not invasive, Yost explained after the game. “Everything went well there,” Yost said.
Even so, Vargas is bound for the disabled list. Despite Yost’s confidence, Gordon could still join him. His initial injury occurred sliding into second base to break up a double play in Cleveland. He aggravated the wrist diving into second on a double Monday night.
Even the minor news on Wednesday was discomforting. Mike Moustakas sat out due to a stomach virus. In between bouts of vomiting, he lay ashen-faced inside the trainer’s room.
Waylaid by injuries earlier in his career, Gordon has been a picture of health in recent years. He hasn’t been on the disabled list since the beginning of the 2010 season. He cannot say if his streak of vitality will stay intact. But he sounded hopeful.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Gordon said. “I just think the MRI and the X-ray are for precautionary reasons.”