Royals bring up Jorge Bonifacio, send down Ryan O’Hearn

Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn’s struggles at the plate coupled with the return of Lucas Duda from the injured list made it time for Jorge Bonifacio to return to the majors. Bonifacio started in left field on Friday night, his first game in the big leagues this season.

The club optioned O’Hearn to Class AAA Omaha and recalled Bonifacio prior to Friday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins. With everyday left fielder Alex Gordon in the lineup at designated hitter and not playing the field as he still felt the lingering effects of being pelted in the back by a pitch on Wednesday night, Bonifacio stepped right into left field.

Royals manager Ned Yost acknowledged that Bonifacio’s promotion hinged largely on him being a right-handed hitter. With Hunter Dozier still on the injured list (oblique) and the Royals set to play three games against the Seattle Mariners’ left-handed heavy pitching staff starting on Monday, Bonifacio got the call.

“We had a decision between Brett Phillips and Boni last night, but we’re facing four lefties in a row starting Sunday, so we went with Boni right now,” Yost said. “I don’t imagine Boni will be here a long time to be honest with you. When Dozier comes back, we’ll have to make another move.”

Bonifacio got off to a dreadful start to the season with Class AAA Omaha: He went 0 for 31 out of the gate. For the season, Bonifacio has posted a slash line of .195/.250/.395 with a team-high 11 home runs at Omaha.

Since the start of May (38 games), Bonifacio has hit .221 with nine homers and 21 RBIs.

Bonifacio blamed his bad start on his timing at the plate just being off, even though he said he felt good throughout spring training. He said he feels like he’s got his swing back in the past month.

“Thank God I found it now,” Bonifacio said. “Better sooner than later.”

A 6-foot-1, 220-pound native of the Dominican Republic, Bonifacio played in 69 games for the Royals last season after serving an 80-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program after testing positive for the performance enhancing substance Boldenone.

Last season, Bonifacio batted .225 with a .312 on-base percentage and a .360 slugging percentage. He hit four home runs, 16 doubles and had 23 RBIs. In 113 major-league games in 2017, Bonifacio hit 17 homers and posted a slash line of .255/.320/.432.

“This group of guys is like a family over the last two years,” Bonifacio said. “I was missing them.”

As for O’Hearn, Yost said the left-handed hitting slugger could be back with the team in a few weeks after getting the chance to “reset,” relax and stop pressing at the plate.

Getting back into the swing: Dozier participated in batting practice at Target Field prior to Friday’s game as expected. It was the first time since he went on the injured list.

Dozier has been on the 10-day injured list since June 3 (retroactive to May 31) with a right oblique strain. He dealt with back stiffness at the end of April and early May. That injury limited him to designated hitter duties for several games.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-handed-hitting slugger ranks among the American League leaders in batting average (fifth, .314), on-base percentage (sixth, .398) and slugging percentage (fifth, .589).

Dozier’s 11 home runs rank second on the Royals behind Jorge Soler (17), and his 26 walks lead the Royals.

Triple play: Friday night’s game in Minneapolis, Minnesota, marks the third city the Royals will play in as many days after having played at home in Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday and in Omaha on Thursday leading into the College World Series.

Friday’s lineup

Whit Merrifield, 2b

Nicky Lopez, ss

Alex Gordon, dh

Jorge Soler, rf

Lucas Duda, 1b

Cheslor Cuthbert, 3b

Jorge Bonifacio, lf

Cam Gallagher, c

Billy Hamilton, cf

Pitcher: Brad Keller (rh, 3-8, 4.29).

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.