Third baseman Mike Moustakas moved one step closer to returning to the Royals’ lineup by testing his strained left calf Friday by taking ground balls prior to the first game against Detroit at Comerica Park.
“It feels good,” said Moustakas, who suffered the injury while running the bases in Monday’s 6-2 victory over Miami at Kaufffman Stadium. “I got to go out and take some ground balls, and I’m ready in case Skip needs me.”
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That availability is likely to be limited to pinch-hitting duties in the day/night doubleheader against the Tigers.
The Royals haven’t ruled out the possibility that Moustakas could start Saturday or Sunday, but a best guess for a full-time return is Tuesday’s opener against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman.
Moustakas pointed to trainers Nick Kenney and Kyle Turner for his ability to avoid a trip to the disabled list.
“We’re taking it slow,” Moustakas admitted. “But from the past couple of days to today, I feel a lot better — a lot more strong in my calf. That’s what Nick and Kyle and those guys have done.
“They’ve got me feeling a lot better than I was. I go in there four times a day and let them treat me. Then I get to go watch a baseball game. Pretty soon, I’ll get to play in one.”
Outfielder Justin Maxwell departed after the first game on bereavement leave to attend funeral services Saturday for his maternal grandmother in New Jersey.
The Royals recalled left-handed reliever Will Smith from Class AAA Omaha to replace Maxwell on the roster. It marks Smith’s sixth recall of the season.
Maxwell went two for four and scored what proved to be the winning run in a 2-1 victory in the first game. He is 14 for 32 (.438) in 14 games since arriving from Houston in a July 31 trade.
“I’m very proud of Justin Maxwell,” manager Ned Yost said. “In the two games he had here, against two tough right-handed pitchers, he had two hits both nights.”
Maxwell said his grandmother passed away nearly two weeks ago, but the family delayed services in order to accommodate others.
“They just wanted to coordinate everything so everybody could get in town,” Maxwell said. “My mom is the youngest of nine. My grandmom has 60-some grandchildren. That’s why it took so long.”
Maxwell said he wanted to return Sunday, but bereavement leave lasts a minimum of three (and maximum of seven) days under baseball’s labor agreement. He will return for Tuesday’s series opener against Chicago.
Maxwell scored what proved to be the winning run in the opener on a rulebook double by Emilio Bonifacio in the seventh inning.
The Royals led 1-0 when Maxwell pulled a leadoff drive into the left-field corner against Detroit starter Justin Verlander for a double. Bonifacio followed with a liner to right that wedged into the padding on the wall.
“I saw the ball,” he said, “and I just kept running.”
Bonifacio actually circled the bases, but right fielder Torii Hunter, rather than play the ball, signaled a dead ball when it became stuck in the padding. First-base umpire Mike Muchlinski confirmed a rulebook double.
That put Bonifacio back at second.
Verlander kept the deficit at 2-0 by retiring the next three hitters.
Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias had everyone, at least every man, cringing in the third inning of the first game after squaring to bunt on a 1-1 fastball from Royals starter Danny Duffy.
Iglesias turned into a 91-mph fastball and was hit square in the cup. He took a few steps toward first base before collapsing to his hands and knees. After a few moments, he got to his feet and remained in the game.
Duffy issued a two-out walk to Torii Hunter but ended the inning by retiring Miguel Cabrera on a routine grounder to third.
Yost doesn’t believe the pending new rules involving increased use of replay will be as invasive as some contend.
“In the last two weeks,” he said, “I guarantee there’s not (more than) three plays I would have challenged. And there were probably all three bang-bang plays at first base.”
The proposal, if approved by the owners in November, would take effect next season. Managers will be permitted to challenge one call through the first six innings and two more over the rest of the game.
All challenges will be reviewed by a panel at Major League Baseball’s corporate headquarters in New York.
Right-hander Kyle Zimmer, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, might skip his next start at Class AA Northwest Arkansas as a precaution after experiencing biceps soreness in his last outing.
Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo characterized Zimmer’s problem as “some fatigue” but said the organization planned to be “cautious” in its approach.
Picollo acknowledged that could include shutting down Zimmer because the Naturals’ season only runs through Sept. 2.
Zimmer, 21, was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. He struggled initially this season at Hi-A Wilmington before gaining a promotion to Northwest Arkansas after a series of strong starts.
• Class AAA Omaha right-hander Yordano Ventura was No. 7 on Baseball America’s weekly Prospect Hot Sheet, which seeks to identify which of the game’s top prospects are in top form.
Ventura, 22, won two starts over the previous week while pitching 12 scoreless innings and striking out 12.
The website reported: “Where he once was a pitcher who could touch 100 mph with a max-effort delivery, he now reaches triple digits ‘as easy as any pitcher I’ve seen,’ according to one scout who saw him recently.”
It was 32 years ago Saturday — Aug. 17, 1980 — that George Brett pushed his average to .401 by going four for four in an 8-3 victory over Toronto at then-Kauffman Stadium.