Raul Ibañez sits as Nori Aoki’s return shakes up Royals’ outfield lineup

07/11/2014 6:56 PM

07/11/2014 11:08 PM

Lately, the Royals outfield is a shifting tectonic plate. The only constant is Lorenzo Cain, who leads the team with a .317 batting average.

Left fielder Alex Gordon has been out of the lineup since Wednesday because of a right wrist sprain sustained when he slid into a base in Tampa on Tuesday. His replacement Thursday, Raul Ibañez, is hitting .097 since arriving in Kansas City.

All of that led to the Royals optioning infielder Christian Colon to Class AAA Omaha in order to reinstate outfielder Nori Aoki from the disabled list before Friday night’s game against Detroit at Kauffman Stadium.

Manager Ned Yost explained before the game the impact Gordon’s injury had on Friday’s adjusted lineup. Aoki led off and started in right field in place of Ibañez, Cain batted second and started in center, and Jarrod Dyson started in left field for only the second time in his career.

“A lot of it (has to do with Gordon),” Yost said. “Nori’s been feeling good. We were going to try to make it through the All-Star break with him just getting more at-bats, but with Gordy going down and only three outfielders, it kind of limits what you can do.”

In Thursday night’s 16-4 trouncing by Detroit, Ibañez was hitless in four at-bats, a microcosm of his hitting woes. He’s batting .147 on the season.

Before Aoki was placed on the disabled list June 21 because of a groin strain, he was batting .263 with 12 doubles, two triples and 14 RBIs in his 292 plate appearances.

Dyson has played only three times in left field throughout his five-year career, but Yost didn’t seem concerned.

“Dyson is more capable of being out there (in left field instead of Aoki),” Yost said. “Dyson can play all three positions equally as well. Nori, the majority of the time, has played right field. So, we’ll leave him where he’s comfortable.”

Colon was selected by the Royals in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft. In his six games with the team, he hit .333 with two doubles and triples. He scored three runs.

Rotation will change

Ned Yost is planning to reset his post-All-Star break pitching rotation while left-hander Jason Vargas recovers from an appendectomy.

No. 1 starter James Shields, who will pitch Saturday against Detroit, will open the second half the season at Boston on July 18. Left-hander Danny Duffy, who started Friday, will slide into Vargas’ spot as the No. 2 starter.

Rookie Yordano Ventura will pitch the third and final game of the Boston series, while Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen will slot into the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Guthrie will open the Royals’ next series, at Chicago, and Chen, who is expected to start Sunday for Vargas, would pitch game two against the White Sox on July 22.

Pushing Vargas to the back of the rotation will allow him more time to recover, but he won’t be eligible to come off the disabled list until after his next projected turn in the rotation. Yost said the trainers are still projecting three weeks of recovery for Vargas — though it could be sooner.

“The trainers are not very optimistic that that’s going to happen,” Yost said.

Yost doesn’t think Vargas will need any rehab starts following his stint on the disabled list, but he’s not ruling it out yet.

Gordon bides his time

Gordon sat at his locker on Friday afternoon with a splint on his right wrist and a smile on his face. He felt good, despite speculation that his right wrist sprain could be a long-term injury.

“Right now, I want to go down there and swing, but I’m not allowed to,” Gordon said. “Just because that’s what aggravates it. We want to get it to a point where after the All-Star break we don’t have to deal with it.”

Gordon, who was chosen for the American League All-Star team, won’t take any batting practice or hit until the Boston series begins next Friday as a precaution, though Gordon did mention that he might be available to pinch-run in the current series.

He will make the trip to Minneapolis for the All-Star Game but won’t do anything other than watch.

“I got to look at what’s best for this team,” he said.

An important month

The Royals found themselves 5 1/2 games behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central and 1 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot heading into Friday night’s game.

This is designated hitter Billy Butler’s eighth season in Kansas City, and he thinks that this is the most intense July he has ever been a part of as a Royal.

“It definitely does feel different,” Butler said. “We’re right in the thick of it. Every game is extremely important, especially against the Tigers in the division lead, but every game is important no matter who we’re playing. That’s fun to be a part of.”

To reach Megan K. Armstrong, send email to marmstrong@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @meganKarmstrong.

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