Royals manager Ned Yost’s professional persona isn’t defined by a constant tinkering and toying with his batting order.
But before Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium, Yost filled out his lineup card with someone other than shortstop Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot for just the 29th time this season.
Yost penciled in outfielder Paulo Orlando atop the lineup, giving Orlando his first start there this season. He had nine at-bats in the leadoff spot last season.
“(We’re) just giving him a shot,” Yost said in the dugout before Tuesday’s game. “We’ve been thinking about it for a while. Paulo’s been swinging the bat good.”
In the first inning Tuesday, Orlando doubled in the No. 1 slot.
Yost’s attitude toward his batting order hasn’t pleased Royals fans who have been calling for Escobar to be moved down in the lineup.
It isn’t hard to see why those fans were upset. Escobar, who has been mired in a months-long slump, has drawn similar criticism from fans for his constant struggles at the plate. The speedy shortstop is hitting just .218 in his last 23 games and has gotten on base at a .250 clip, well below the .321 major-league on base percentage.
Over a similar span, Orlando has been one of the few bright spots in a struggling Royals lineup. He has hit .377 with a .400 on-base percentage with two home runs and five RBIs in his last 21 games.
But Yost said the switch had little to do with numbers. He was waiting for first baseman Eric Hosmer and designated hitter Kendrys Morales to get their bats going again before moving Orlando up in the order.
Escobar, who was slotted in the eighth spot of the lineup Tuesday, will also get more opportunities to knock in runners at the bottom of the order, Yost said.
“(Escobar) has been a pretty good hitter especially in the last couple of weeks,” Yost said. “The hits that he’s gotten have all been in pretty crucial situations. In the bottom of the order, when you get guys on in pretty crucial situations, you can have real good confidence he’ll do something to drive them in.”
Yost moved Escobar down in the order in early July, giving rookie Whit Merrifield — who has since been demoted to Class AAA Omaha — a chance. But Escobar’s name was put in back in the leadoff spot on July 19. He has hit .197 over that stretch with two stolen bases.
Davis to resume throwing Wednesday
Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis is expected to resume throwing Wednesday after being shut down for 10 days with a flexor strain in his pitching arm.
He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 31, retroactive to July 28.
Pitchers Mike Minor and Jason Vargas are ‘doing fine’ in rehab assignments
Royals left-hander Mike Minor made his third rehab start for Class AAA Omaha on Sunday, throwing 77 pitches and going 4 1/3 innings.
He allowed three hits and struck out four. Yost said from the reports he heard, Minor had “very good” fastball command, and his changeup looked good.
Another lefty, Jason Vargas, made his first rehab start for the Arizona League Royals on Sunday as well. He went 1 2/3 innings and only allowed one run.
“They’re both doing fine,” Yost said.
Jake Junis’ Omaha debut
In his first game with the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate, right-hander Jake Junis pitched one of his best games of the year.
Junis, whom the team drafted in the 29th round in 2011, went seven innings and allowed only one run on three hits for Omaha. He hit two batters but didn’t walk anyone and struck out seven.
The outing for the Storm Chasers was just the latest in what has been a successful year for Junis. Including his 21 starts with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he has an ERA of 3.14, and opponents are hitting .240 against him.
“He’s been outstanding all year long,” Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said in late July. “He was a guy that sort of showed you short glimpses of him really being sort of a dominating guy. He threw 90 to 95 (miles an hour), good breaking ball, good change-up. And then he would lose it. He’d lose it for a little bit and get back into it.
“Well then, this year he just had a better mound presence, and he just kept working."
He’s two strikeouts away from his single-season career high (126), and currently has career lows in ERA and WHIP (1.11).
The Star’s Christian S. Hardy contributed to this report.