On Friday morning, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer underwent a CT-scan on his injured right hand, as the club aimed to rule out the unlikely possibility of season-ending surgery.
In the afternoon, the head of the team’s training staff sought to explain the organization’s thought process in handling Hosmer, who was initially hit by a pitch on July 20 and suffered multiple setbacks before a non-displaced stress fracture was discovered on Thursday. The team hopes to have the results of the CT-scan by Saturday morning.
Hosmer believes the stress fracture occurred that Sunday in Boston, when Jon Lester smoked him with a 94-mph fastball. Nick Kenney, the team’s head trainer, explained the situation was more nuanced. As he recounted the process, Hosmer most likely aggravated the injury and caused the stress fracture with a check-swing on Thursday.
Hosmer underwent an X-ray on July 21 in Chicago when he exhibited "noticeable swelling, decreased range of motion and decreased strength," Kenney said. The examination "didn’t have any definitive results that it was fractured," and the diagnosis was a bone bruise. From there, it was up to Hosmer to judge whether he could display a playable range of motion and manage the pain.
His condition improved in the coming days, which masked the damage. Hosmer attempted to play on July 23 in Chicago, but departed midgame because of a loss of strength. He sat out all last weekend against the Indians. At last, on Thursday evening, he felt his hand give out once more. A subsequent X-ray revealed the stress fracture, which will sideline Hosmer for three to six weeks.
"If we were to sit here and wait for everybody to be completely pain-free, we wouldn’t have anybody on the field," Kenney said before the Royals faced the Athletics at O.co Coliseum. "Especially at this point in time in the season. It’s very unfortunate. We feel absolutely sick about it.
"But we had enough range of motion, we had enough strength and we felt that he was safe enough to play. Unfortunately, he wasn’t."
The injury robbed the Royals of a Gold Glove defender at first base and iced their hottest bat from July. Kansas City does not intend to replace Hosmer with a hitter until Tuesday in Arizona. Manager Ned Yost said he requires an extra arm in the bullpen for Saturday, when Jason Vargas returns from the disabled list. He stayed on the active roster for Friday’s game.
For now, Billy Butler will handle first base regularly. Yost hinted catcher Salvador Perez could also see duty there, as early as Saturday.
Vargas will inherit Hosmer’s roster spot, Yost said. From there, the club seeks the best upgrade at hitter. On a conference call among team executives on Friday afternoon, the group debated the merits of promoting from within versus seeking upgrades through the waiver wire.
The internal options include infielder Johnny Giavotella (.603 on-base plus slugging percentage in the majors), Matt Fields (21 homers in Class AAA Omaha), Justin Maxwell (.397 OPS in the majors this season) and Francisco Pena (22 homers in Omaha). Only Giavotella and Pena are on the 40-man roster, which aids their cause.
By delaying the decision through the weekend, the Royals could increase their options as players lose roster spots. The Red Sox designated first baseman Mike Carp for assignment on Friday. The Royals have had discussions about claiming Carp off waivers, and rival evaluators stressed he could be a useful contributor.
One National League scout stressed Carp was unlikely to replicate his .855 OPS from 2013, but still projected him capable of 10 to 15 home runs, with a .270 batting average and solid on-base skills. But the path of least resistance, of course, always winds back through internal choices.
"I imagine it’ll probably come from internally," Yost said. "But we’ll see."