Royals

Royals hoping Jorge Soler can get on track after first spring home run

Royals outfielder Jorge Soler connected for a home run in the fifth inning Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Royals outfielder Jorge Soler connected for a home run in the fifth inning Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, Ariz. jsleezer@kcstar.com

When the Royals acquired outfielder Jorge Soler in an offseason trade that sent closer Wade Davis to Chicago, the industry consensus went something like this: In Soler, the club had landed a 25-year-old with premium offensive potential, a player who still needed to refine his average defensive skillset and smooth out some rough edges.

If this is the book on Soler, then Tuesday afternoon offered something close to the Full Soler Experience in a 4-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields.

Soler roped his first homer of the spring into the grass berm beyond the 390-foot sign in left-center field. He started in left field and lost a fly ball in the afternoon sun, failing to complete what would have been a difficult catch in the deep corner. He also drew a walk and grounded into a double play on a slow chopper to shortstop, laboring slowly down the first-base line.

In the moments after the loss, Royals manager Ned Yost expressed hope that the homer would help spark Soler. He revealed that the outfielder had recently escaped to minor-league camp for two days, hoping to find his swing with extra at-bats.

“He’s been working hard,” Yost said. “We didn’t really say much about it. But a couple of days ago, he went down to the minor leagues for two days in a row and got 16 at-bats. Just trying to get himself going, trying to get himself comfortable and his timing down.”

Soler, who is expected to begin the season as the Royals’ starting right fielder, entered Tuesday batting .122 (5 for 41) in his first spring away from the Cubs. The Royals believe his defense has improved, yet it can be difficult to gauge the progress in the small-sample-size world of spring training. On Tuesday, Yost said Soler’s defensive misplay was a classic “Arizona sun ball.”

The early returns come on the heels of a 2016 season in which Soler was limited to just 86 games because of injuries and a crowded outfield in Chicago. In his final season with the Cubs, he batted .238 with a .333 on-base percentage and 12 homers, securing a World Series ring in the process. In three years in Chicago, he batted .258 with a .328 on-base percentage and 27 homers in 765 plate appearances.

Yet, the Royals saw promise in Soler, once viewed as one the top prospects in the game. His spring performance has been disappointing, of course, but the Royals have tried to put the struggles in the proper context. In the end, spring numbers do not matter once the regular season begins. For now, the Royals are hopeful Soler will find more comfort in the final two weeks before opening day.

“It was good to see him center one up and hit one over the fence,” Yost said.

The arms

Starting pitcher Jason Vargas continued his preparation for the regular season, allowing two earned runs while striking out three in 4  1/3 innings against the Diamondbacks.

Vargas surrendered a solo homer to Arizona’s Chris Herrmann and also walked two while throwing 72 pitches. He will increase his pitch count to somewhere between 90 and 95 pitches in his next start.

“I was able to go out there and execute pitches and get past the point that we did last time out,” Vargas said.

Reliever Scott Alexander, who had allowed just one earned run in eight appearances this spring, gave up two runs (one earned) after replacing Vargas with one out in the fifth.

Joakim Soria pitched around some shaky defense in the sixth, recording a scoreless inning after right-fielder Billy Burns turned a single into a triple. Soria shook off the misplay and induced two ground-outs.

The regular guys

Still fighting for a spot on the roster, second baseman Christian Colon saved a run with a diving catch to his right on a line drive in the eighth inning.

Reliever Peter Moylan had allowed a double off the left-field wall and moved the runner to third with a balk. The terrific defense allowed Moylan to escape the inning unscathed.

The young guys

Peter O’Brien continued his push for Cactus League MVP honors, clubbing his seventh homer of the spring. The no-doubt shot came in the top of the second against O’Brien’s old team.

O’Brien is 15 for 45 this spring with seven homers and three doubles. He is still likely ticketed for Class AAA Omaha as the Royals sort through a looming roster crunch.

The team enters the final weeks of camp with only the starting second base job and two bench spots in flux. Those roster spots will likely belong to some combination of Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, Christian Colon and Raul Mondesi.

DIAMONDBACKS 4, ROYALS 2

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Mondesi 2b

4

0

0

0

0

3

.375

Moustakas 3b

3

0

0

0

0

1

.200

Cuthbert 3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.213

Lo.Cain cf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.273

Ru.Sosa lf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

A.Gordon rf

2

0

0

0

1

0

.381

B.Burns rf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.243

J.Soler lf

2

1

1

1

1

0

.140

Te.Gore pr

1

0

0

0

0

0

.214

O’Brien dh

3

1

1

1

0

2

.333

Merrifield 1b

2

0

1

0

0

0

.273

C.Colon 1b

1

0

1

0

0

0

.325

D.Butera c

3

0

0

0

0

2

.067

Arteaga ss

3

0

1

0

0

1

.250

Totals

30

2

5

2

2

10

Arizona

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

G.Balnco cf

4

1

1

1

0

0

.225

Peralta rf

3

1

1

1

0

0

.250

F.Rodney rp

1

0

1

0

0

0

.000

Hoover

1

0

1

0

0

0

1.000

B.Drury 2b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.419

Medrano 2b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.500

Ja.Lamb 3b

3

0

1

1

0

1

.382

C.Rivero 3b

1

0

0

0

0

1

.250

Descalso 1b

3

0

0

0

0

2

.292

K.Negron 1b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.231

Herrmann lf

2

1

1

1

1

1

.275

Hazelbaker lf

1

0

1

0

0

0

.211

N.Ahmed ss

4

0

1

0

0

0

.217

J.Mathis c

2

1

0

0

1

0

.421

M.Jones c

1

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Rob.Ray sp

1

0

0

0

0

0

.000

O.Arcia rf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.182

Totals

32

4

8

4

2

7

Kansas City

010

010

000

2

5

1

Arizona

010

030

00x

4

8

1

E: Alexander (1), Drury (2). DP: Kansas City 1, Arizona 0. LOB: Kansas City 3, Arizona 7. 2B: Colon (4), Drury (6), Lamb (4), Hazelbaker (2). 3B: Blanco (3), Ahmed (2). HR: Soler (1), O’Brien (7), Herrmann (2). SB: Merrifield (4), Arteaga (2), Peralta (1), Herrmann (2). CS: Gordon (2), Gore (3).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Vargas

4.1

3

2

2

2

3

5.40

Alexander L, 2-1

0.2

2

2

1

0

1

1.93

Soria

1

1

0

0

0

1

3.00

Caramo

1

1

0

0

0

1

1.23

Moylan

1

1

0

0

0

1

1.29

Arizona

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Rodney

1

0

0

0

1

2

0.00

Ray W, 3-0

5

4

2

2

1

6

2.70

Hoover

3

1

0

0

1

2

0.00

Holds: Rodney (1). Saves: Hoover (1). WP: Caramo. Balk: Moylan. Umpires: Home, Jim Reynolds; First, Mike Winters; Second, Mike Everitt; Third, Mike Muchlinski. Time: 2:33. Att: 10,131.

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