Omar Infante applied an icepack to the right side of his jaw as he ambled through the Royals clubhouse. The stitches on the left side of his chin still ached. Swallowing was a chore; talking wasn’t much more pleasant.
Yet he hoped to return to action on Friday night at Target Field, just three days after an 89-mph fastball struck him in the face. A battery of tests revealed only a sprained jaw, the sort of result that made Infante thankful, even if he is unsure if he’ll be able to avoid the disabled list.
"I saw the ball," Infante said about the wayward pitch from Tampa Bay reliever Heath Bell. "I thought it was going to break my face."
His initial reaction was the same as that of his teammates. "I saw my blood in my hand," he said. "‘Wow.’ I’m thinking I broke something."
Instead, he avoided both a fracture and a concussion. He flew with the club for this three-game series with the Twins. Royals manager Ned Yost penciled Infante into his customary place in the lineup, batting second and playing second base. Inside Infante’s locker waited a revamped helmet, with extended padding to protect his left jawline.
Yost commandeered the hat for a few moments and showed it off to a few members of the team. Infante smiled as he saw Yost testing out the new equipment.
"He’s feeling much better," Yost said. "Just getting back in the swing of things."
The process takes time. Infante admitted he was nervous about stepping back into the box again. He planned to take batting practice early Friday evening before determining if he was ready to play again. But in a pre-game setting, he could not replicate the scenario that causes him to worry.
"That’s normal," Infante said. "I can’t do anything about that. Just try to see the ball, try not to think too much about that. That’s normal. That happened with my hand, too."
In 2008, Infante missed 32 games when a pitch fractured his left hand. He missed 73 games the next season when the same fate befell him. Both times, upon his return, he required an adjustment period to the speed and danger of big-league pitching.
For now, team officials do not believe Infante will require a lengthy stay on the disabled list. Still, they appear to be taking precautions. Left-handed starter Danny Duffy was held out of his start on Thursday night with Class AAA Omaha.
As he often is, Yost was cryptic about the team’s intentions. He indicated Duffy’s status was related to Infante’s health, but offered no more. "We’ve got to wait and see how Omar is," Yost said.
He added, "I’m not going to tell you my plans before they happen. Or what our plans as an organization are. There’s too many other factors."
Utility infielder Pedro Ciriaco cleared waivers on Thursday, and the team assigned him to Omaha. He is ineligible to return to the big league club until 10 days pass – unless the team places a player on the disabled list. If Infante experiences a setback, Ciriaco can back up second baseman Johnny Giavotella and shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Infante appeared resolute in the face of yet another injury calamity this season. He intended to test his new batting helmet, and move forward with the team.
"The doctor told me it’s day to day," he said. "And I’ll feel better."