None of the annoyances mattered for Royals left fielder Brett Eibner on Thursday night.
He was late to Kauffman Stadium, hustling in two hours before a 7:15 first pitch against the Detroit Tigers. He still had some swelling in the left ankle he sprained May 31. After a stint on the 15-day disabled list, Eibner faced former AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in his first at-bat back in the majors.
Despite everything, Eibner cracked an RBI single in his first plate appearance for the Royals since his rehab assignment in a game Kansas City lost 10-4 to the Detroit Tigers. In the fifth inning, he followed that up with his first major-league home run, a shot over the center-field wall that gave the Royals a 4-3 lead.
“I’ve got to be aggressive, especially with a guy that has the history he (Verlander) does, and has the stuff that he does,” Eibner said. “So anytime he leaves a fastball out on the plate, I’ve got to jump on it. … A guy with his service time in the big leagues and what he’s accomplished — it’s pretty special.”
Eibner had already been antsy enough Thursday. His four games for the Royals this season before his injury yielded a .462 batting average (6 of 13), and he was anxious to return to that production.
But on the day of Eibner’s return, the pilots for his flight out of Dallas were late. Instead of arriving early at the ballpark, he was stuck in airport purgatory.
“Obviously I’m excited to get back but there’s nothing you can really do without the pilots,” he said. “So you’re just kind of sitting and waiting and seeing what’s going to happen.”
What would happen was Eibner finally strolling into the clubhouse around 5 p.m., when he found out he was starting in left field and batting ninth against the Tigers.
He made the most of his spot. Eibner slipped a single through the infield to drive in Paulo Orlando, who had tripled, and gave the Royals a 3-1 lead in the second inning.
“I made sure tonight I went out, especially with Paulo on third early in the game, I wanted to get that done,” Eibner said. “So right from the get-go, kind of choked up and made sure I got a pitch I could handle.”
His homer in the bottom of the fifth was a solo shot, breaking the Royals out of a 3-3 tie.
To make room for Eibner, the Royals optioned outfielder Reymond Fuentes to Class AAA Omaha. Fuentes has swung a strong bat for the Royals with a .317 batting average in 13 games. But his defense needs work, as evidenced by his dropped ball in right field in Wednesday’s victory over the Indians.
“It’s tough,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “When Alex Gordon came up here it was different. When Paulo (Orlando) came up, it was different. They had to learn to adjust to the third deck, and the energy that’s in the stadium. It’s a difficult adjustment.
“We’d bring him up and send him down. Each time we’d bring him up he’d be a little bit better defensively. It took Gordy adjustment time when he got here. (Fuentes) can hit up here. He’s swings it well enough. He’s got to get better defensively.”
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff contributed to this report