The life returned to Omar Infante’s right arm last week. His bat had to wait a few extra days. He delivered his signature moment as a Royal in the second game of the World Series, smacking his first home run in two months as the final salvo of a five-run inning that helped his team even the Fall Classic.
A subsequent row between Salvador Perez and Giants reliever Hunter Strickland obscured Infante’s highlight. But the blast offered a glint of hope for a club always in need of offense. After months of shoulder discomfort and ineffective at-bats, Infante hopes he can again resemble the player the Royals thought they acquired in free-agency last winter.
“I feel better, because I’m taking strong pills,” Infante said. “That’s helped me a lot. I feel it a little bit in B.P., and I still feel sore in the front of my shoulder. But yesterday I felt more comfortable.”
The management of pain has become a critical component of Infante’s first season in a four-year, $30.25 million deal. During the American League Championship Series, Infante said, he began taking oral doses of the pain-killing drug Toradol. Infante, a 32-year-old playing in his 13th big-league season, received an injection a few months back that reduced the discomfort in the back of his shoulder. The front of the joint still bothered him.
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The increased medication led to his improved throwing in the final two games against Baltimore, he said. He also felt far more comfortable in the batter’s box. His second-inning double on Wednesday was his first extra-base hit since Sept. 23. The homer was his first since Aug. 13, and just his second since June 27.
In his first season as a Royal, Infante experienced few individual moments of elation. A sore shoulder and elbow slowed him during the spring. A fastball bloodied and bruised his face in April. A back ailment sent him to the disabled list in May. His shoulder has been troubled for months now.
General manager Dayton Moore sought Infante last winter as an answer for their glaring hole at second base and as a mentor for shortstop Alcides Escobar. Infante has fallen somewhat short of Kansas City’s offensive expectations. He posted a .632 on-base plus slugging percentage this season, his lowest mark since 2005.
Still, the Royals feel Infante stabilized “an area that we had some instability,” Moore said.
“It’s helped out a lot,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Just the way he carries himself, how he has an effect on Esky, and how he has an effect on all the guys in here. He’s a leader, man.”
The symbiosis with Escobar is a critical component of Infante’s value, the Royals believe. During the recruiting process, Moore said, multiple voices in the organization stressed how Infante would aid Escobar, a fellow Venezuelan and a talented player coming off a dreadful offensive season. To Moore, the shortstop and the second base “feed off each other.”
“Esky has great talent,” Moore said. “Esky is going to continue to get better. I think Esky can be one of the better players in the league. He’s very athletic, and a talented baseball player. And there’s no doubt that our scouts felt, to a man, that Omar would continue to elevate Esky’s play.”
Escobar rebounded from 2013 with ease. The coaching staff marveled at the consistency of his preparation. On Thursday, he received a nomination for an American League Gold Glove.
Does Infante deserve the lion’s share of the credit for Escobar’s season? Perhaps not. But if Infante can continue to contribute as he did in game two, he’ll make clear his value.
“He’s got some big hits for us,” Moore said. “He’s made some big plays for us. I think he can tell you that he’s not satisfied with his year. It seems like to me, he’s always gotten on base at the right time or gotten the big hit. He’s been in the middle of a lot of our success.”