Out of the lineup for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, second baseman Omar Infante expressed a mix of disappointment and understanding about his lack of playing time.
“It’s not easy,” Infante said. “I understand I have to be on the bench.”
As the Royals prepared to face the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday afternoon, Infante braced for his fifth straight game on the bench. Once the Royals’ starter at second base, he has seen his playing time decrease in the last month. The reduction began in early May, when Royals manager Ned Yost cut his workload by nearly half. Since Whit Merrifield arrived on May 18, Infante has played even less.
“It’s a business,” Infante said. “Merrifield is playing good. Cheslor is playing good. That happens, you know. I’ll just keep doing my job, keep working and wait for my opportunity.”
At age 34, Infante is in the third year of a four-year, $30 million contract, signed before the 2014 season. The contract looms as a potential albatross as the Royals continue their chase for another World Series crown.
Infante is owed more than $12.5 million through 2017, including a $2 million buyout on an option in 2018. For now, he is essentially a high-priced backup.
He is batting .239 with a .279 on-base percentage in 39 games. His adjusted on-base plus slugging (OPS+) is 62, which ranks in the bottom 15 in the American League among players with at least 140 plate appearances. (Among the Royals, only Kendrys Morales and Alcides Escobar have been worse.)
For Infante, the offensive production has been a consistent problem. Yet the erosion of his defensive skills has been perhaps even more alarming. In the offseason, Infante had a procedure to shave down a bone spur in his right elbow. He appeared healthier during spring training and began the season batting .271 with a .307 on-base percentage and seven doubles in April.
In May, he has been plagued by inconsistent play at second base. His arm has been erratic. His range appears limited compared to his prime years in Detroit and Atlanta.
On Tuesday, Infante conceded that his defensive performance has been below his usual standards.
“I feel like I’m struggling with my defense,” Infante said. “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel comfortable.”
For now, Royals manager Ned Yost appears content to move forward with Merrifield logging most of the starts at second base. Which leaves Infante as a backup that, in total, will make $7.75 million in 2016.
“I think I need more comfort,” Infante said. “But I know I (haven’t played) good defense this year. I don’t know why. I’ll try to be better.”
Eibner set for rehab assignment
Outfielder Brett Eibner will begin a rehab assignment at Class AAA Omaha on Thursday as he continues his recovery from a left ankle sprain.
Eibner, who suffered the sprain on May 31, will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list next Thursday.
The injury came just four games into his big-league career. He batted .462 (6 for 13) with three doubles in four games. Yet his spot on the 25-man roster is not guaranteed upon return. The Royals currently have four outfielders on their roster, including Reymond Fuentes, who was summoned from Omaha after the injury to Eibner. Utility man Whit Merrifield can also fill a slot in the outfield.
Still, Eibner possesses a tool — the ability to hit for power — that is currently lacking in the every-day lineup.
“He played well,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. He “had some really high-pressure at-bats that he performed very well in.”