Jorge Soler’s Cubs reunion began with a baseball planted firmly in his shoulder.
Standing at the plate with two outs in the second inning Wednesday, Soler absorbed an errant 93 mph fastball from the right arm of Cubs pitcher Eddie Butler. Soler emerged from the moment unscathed and jogged to first base. But he would leave Surprise Stadium still searching for his first hit of the spring following the Royals’ 7-3 loss to the Cubs in front of an announced crowd of 7,593.
Soler, the Royals’ marquee addition of the offseason, has opened the spring 0 for 8 while drawing two walks in four games. On Wednesday, he started in right field and finished 0 for 2, flying out to left field and striking out once before exiting for Hunter Dozier.
Royals manager Ned Yost deemed it too early to make a worthwhile evaluation of Soler’s at-bats.
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“They’re just getting their timing down,” Yost said. “I don’t really think too much about it until about the halfway point.”
Soler has continued to make progress in the field, Yost said. On Wednesday, Soler returned to right field after seeing action in left field earlier this week. He is expected to be the Royals’ starting right fielder and play every day. But he remains open to spot duty in left field, too.
“He’s talked about it before that he feels more comfortable in right field,” said Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Soler. “But he’ll play some left field, and he’s going to do the best that he can out there, too.”
While Soler started for the home side, former Royals Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis did not make the trip to Surprise.
Earlier in the day, Soler stood inside the Royals clubhouse and answered questions from a handful of reporters from Chicago. In a brief interview, he said he had been fitted for his World Series ring and looked forward to wearing it off the field. He described his time with the Cubs as ‘OK,’ citing his nagging injuries and limited playing time.
“It was not great because he had some injuries,” Grifol said, translating for Soler. “But overall, he thought it was OK.”
You might as well throw left-hander Scott Alexander into the hunt for the final bullpen spot. Alexander posted his second scoreless outing of the spring Wednesday, striking out one during a clean fifth inning.
“It’s back-to-back really good outings for him,” Yost said. “He looks strong. He’s got really good sink on his ball. He looks good.”
Right-hander Jake Junis, who spent most of the 2016 season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, struggled for the second straight outing, allowing two earned runs and three hits in two innings. He also struck out two. The performance came after Junis allowed five earned runs in two innings in his spring debut.
Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez returned to the mound and was nicked for one run and three hits in one inning. Right-hander Brandon League also allowed a run while struggling with his command. He issued three walks in an inning of work.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar opened the bottom of the first with his first homer of the spring, driving a baseball over the 379-foot sign in left-center field.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain finished 1 for 2 with a walk and is 2 for 6 in his first three games.
On the defensive side, Christian Colon started at third base and made a terrific stop on a ball to his left.
The young guys
Second baseman Corey Toups replaced Whit Merrifield in the field and secured his first hit of the spring.
Toups, a intriguing middle infield prospect, finished last season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, batting .275 with a .358 on-base percentage and 10 homers in 86 games for the Naturals.