Opinion

Royals manager Ned Yost sticks with Omar Infante despite horrid slump at plate

The ity Royals' Omar Infante was greeted in the dugout after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Alcides Escobar against the Texas Rangers on June 7 at Kauffman Stadium.
The ity Royals' Omar Infante was greeted in the dugout after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Alcides Escobar against the Texas Rangers on June 7 at Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Omar Infante woke up Sunday morning with three hits and zero walks in his last 35 plate appearances. He had five hits in his last 62 at-bats. His batting average resided at .204, four points above the Mendoza Line, with few visible reasons for encouragement.

And yet Royals manager Ned Yost indicated he gave no thought to starting backup infielder Christian Colon at second base against the Cardinals. Infante took his customary place in the bottom third of the lineup and in the heart of the diamond for Sunday’s game, which ultimately was postponed by rain after a nearly three-hour delay.

Infante carried a measly .496 on-base-plus-slugging percentage into the day. But Yost continues to speak highly of his second baseman, despite the slew of unproductive at-bats.

“I want Omar to get his bat going,” Yost said before rain washed away the game. “For me, he’s playing really good defensively. I mean, as good as I’ve ever seen him. Offensively, it’s pitch selection for him. It’s not mechanics.”

Infante did not receive a chance to snap his skid. A series of showers postponed the series finale with the Cardinals. A makeup date was not scheduled. The two clubs share off days on July 23 and Aug. 3.

Sunday marked the third rainout experienced this season by the Royals, 34-25. They are running out of off days, which are viewed as beneficial to clubs searching for rest. Yost still found an avenue for humor, with a sly reference to the roof at Miller Park, where the Royals will play their next two games.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Yost said. “I always blame it on the city for allowing it to rain. When I managed in Milwaukee, we didn’t have one rainout there. We made sure that teams got in and got to play. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Royals will not be interrupted by the weather during the two-game series with the Brewers. Yost juggled his rotation after the postponement. Edinson Volquez will still start on Monday night. Chris Young, who was slated to pitch Sunday, will take the mound on Tuesday. The extra day gives Young time to study his new opponent.

“Where I am right now, I’m completely locked in,” Young said. “Look I’ll go out and compete any day. But (it’s nice) to have the extra day to watch video and prepare and do stuff that I’m not going to have access to the rest of the night. It wouldn’t be until tomorrow. So I would be cramming a little bit, like a college test or something.”

Joe Blanton was initially supposed to pitch Tuesday. Now he will head back into the bullpen for a few days. Blanton will be kept as an emergency option if Yordano Ventura cannot make his start on Wednesday. Ventura dealt with numbness in his hand in his last outing. Otherwise, Blanton should start on Friday against the Red Sox.

The rainout provided a respite for the team’s struggling lineup. Infante was not expected to lead the offense this season, but his hitting hasn’t met even modest expectations.

The Royals owe Infante $17.75 million for 2016 and 2017. After a disappointing campaign in 2014, his production has disappeared this season. Pitchers have been punishing him with both fastballs and offspeed pitches that Infante cannot reach. Yet he continues to swing.

“Everything away is killing him,” Yost said.

The insistence on playing Infante should provide some window into how Yost, at least, views Colon. Until the club decides otherwise, they will stick with Infante.

“If he can, being a veteran guy, reel himself back in to where he’s swinging at strikes, he’ll be a productive hitter,” Yost said.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email tormccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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