As a boy in the Dominican Republic, Miguel Almonte grew up mesmerized by the New York Yankees. He idolized Alex Rodriguez, the star third baseman with Dominican roots. His whole family were Yankees fans, Almonte says.
That changed, of course, when Almonte, a 24-year-old right-hander, signed as an amateur with the Royals and moved through their minor-league system. But as he stood inside the visitors clubhouse on Wednesday, one day before the first major-league start of his career, Almonte cracked a slight smile while offering the memory.
“Now everybody at the house is a Royals fan,” he said, speaking through interpreter Pedro Grifol.
On Thursday afternoon, Almonte will take the mound against the New York Yankees in the final game of a four-game series. The start will represent the culmination of a journey and the continuation of a career resurgence. Just 20 months after making his major-league debut with nine relief appearances in September 2015, Almonte, a once promising prospect, will finally make his first career start after a frustrating 2016 season.
“I’m very excited,” he said.
The assignment became official Wednesday as the Royals placed right-handed starter Nathan Karns on the 10-day disabled list and reinstated left fielder Alex Gordon from a three-day paternity leave after the birth of his first daughter.
The decision was expected. Karns was slated to miss at least one start after experiencing stiffness in his right forearm during a start Friday at Minnesota. A subsequent examination revealed fluid near his elbow. The Royals waited to make the move, sorting through rotation possibilities.
By waiting an extra day, the Royals could only backdate Karns’ trip to the disabled list to this past Sunday, even though his last start was on Friday. Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, which features a 10-day disabled list, teams can only backdate DL stints three days. The wait guarantees that Karns will not be able to return until May 31. The Royals will have to find another spot starter on Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Karns, however, may not have been ready to return by Tuesday.
For now, the Royals have settled on Almonte, in part, because “he was available,” manager Ned Yost said Wednesday. Rookie right-hander Jake Junis started on Sunday at Minnesota and would have been pitching on short rest. The club considered pushing right-hander Ian Kennedy on short rest after he lasted just two innings in the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday. But Yost ultimately decided against it.
For Almonte, the start will represent a minirevival after a disappointing season in 2016. After making his major-league debut in September 2015, and collecting a World Series ring after the club’s world championship, Almonte posted a 5.92 ERA and issued 46 walks in 76 innings while splitting time between Class AAA Omaha and Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He spent much of the season battling mechanical problems, Almonte said.
This year, Almonte appears to have found the answer. He began the season back at Northwest Arkansas. In his first seven appearances, including six starts, he posted a 1.86 ERA while striking out 35 and walking just six.
“We always believed in his stuff,” Yost said. “And he came to spring training this year and he was just OK. It wasn’t like eye-popping. But he got off to a great start … it kind of put him right back to where he was in ’15.”