The wrinkle was supposed to be in the Royals’ schedule — a trip to Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park on Thursday representing the first neutral-site game in club history.
But it came in the lineup, too.
Left fielder Alex Gordon, a native of nearby Lincoln, Nebraska, was absent from the starting lineup against the Tigers after he was hit by a pitch Wednesday, prompting a loss of strength in his back, along his right shoulder. It’s just the second time this season he hasn’t started a game, and if he doesn’t enter it at some point Thursday, it will be the first one that he’s missed altogether.
“Being back in Nebraska, you wanna be back for your fans and where you grew up, so that’s unfortunate,” Gordon said. “If it was during the season, anywhere else, I wouldn’t have played just because of how my shoulder feels right now. I really wanted to play tonight, but I think it was the smart decision on our part to just sit out tonight.”
The Royals and Tigers are finishing up a three-game series in Omaha as a precursor to the College World Series, which starts here Saturday.
Royals manager Ned Yost said he’s trying to stay away from using Gordon at any point during the game, though Gordon alluded to the possibility of pinch-hitting.
Familiarity in Omaha
The one-day excursion to Omaha jogged the memories for several Royals whose professional pathway included a stop with the team’s Triple-A affiliate.
But it’s more than that to Gordon and leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield. Both played in the College World Series in Omaha, though at the old Rosenblatt Stadium.
Gordon helped Nebraska to its first-ever win in the College World Series in 2005. And in the final game at Rosenblatt in 2010, Merrifield delivered a walk-off hit to secure South Carolina’s first national championship.
“Even being in the big leagues (now), that’s probably my favorite memory in baseball,” Merrifield said. “It was a big moment for our community.”
Duda up, Dozier nearing return
After missing six weeks because of a lumbar strain, first baseman Lucas Duda was activated from the injury list. In a corresponding move, the Royals optioned Kelvin Gutierrez to Triple-A Omaha. Because of the uniqueness of the game in Omaha, though, the Royals and Tigers were allowed to carry 26 players Thursday. Gutierrez remained on the roster for a day.
That’s one player back, another nearing.
Third baseman Hunter Dozier is scheduled to take batting practice on the field Friday. Dozier has been sidelined since June 3 with a right oblique strain. Yost said a decision had not yet been made if Dozier would require a rehab stint.
“But if he’s going to get a hit in Triple-A, I’d sure rather have it up here, the way we’re going,” Yost said.
The eight teams to qualify for the College World Series — Texas Tech, Michigan, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi State — took the field before the game to be recognized. One representative from each team threw ceremonial first pitches to Royals and Tigers players.
Baseball Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Dave Winfield also partook in pregame events. Both played in the College World Series.
This year’s tournament starts Saturday.