Johnny Giavotella cracked a smile as he rounded second base, moments after his three-run home run crashed into a railing above his team’s bullpen in left field. It was his first homer in more than a year in the majors, and it rung in a wild, 9-7 comeback victory for the Royals over the Seattle Mariners.
“It almost felt like I was walking on clouds as I rounded the bases,” Giavotella said.
With one swing, Giavotella shuttled the Royals to a victory, assured a winning record on this seven-game West Coast trip and ushered in an internal roster debate that could lead to the demotion of slump-ridden third baseman Mike Moustakas.
That discussion will be settled by Tuesday. In the immediate aftermath of Sunday, the Royals could exhale. They flew to San Diego a week ago ensnared in a deflating losing skid. They managed to snap the streak and win four of their seven games here, even if their offensive consistency still exasperates.
For once, manager Ned Yost mentioned, the offense bailed out the pitcher. Jeremy Guthrie served up three homers and seven runs. But an offensive deluge wrought by Giavotella’s bomb and the first grand slam of Alcides Escobar’s career allowed them to exit on the winning side.
“It was a good day,” Yost said.
Now comes the hard part. The Royals face a roster crunch this week. Giavotella arrived on Friday as a temporary replacement for second baseman Omar Infante. The team expects the inflammation in Infante’s lower back to dissipate before they face the Rockies on Tuesday. By then, they would like to add a reliever to their depleted bullpen.
The initial suspicion was Giavotella would return to Class AAA Omaha. Asked about the situation, Yost stressed the team was considering several options. He declined to speculate whether Giavotella’s home run affected his status.
But Giavotella adds a measure of utility to the roster. His fielding is questionable. But he has experienced continual success as a minor-league hitter. He has played third baseman more often than second for the Storm Chasers.
The Royals do not view Giavotella as a long-term solution for Moustakas. But they feel Moustakas requires an infusion of confidence and success to emerge from his season-starting slide. His on-base plus slugging percentage is .536, which is 115 points below his previous nadir in 2013. The team has already split Moustakas’ time into a platoon with Danny Valencia.
“He’s got to get going,” Yost said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get him going. Because if we’re going to win, he needs to be on that field.”
That answer could be in the minors. Or the team could designate outfielder Justin Maxwell for assignment. The Royals continue to carry five outfielders and lack a backup middle infielder like Giavotella.
The potential of Maxwell still tantalizes team officials. He is out of options, and the club probably would lose him on the waiver wire. But he is 30, now with his fourth organization, and he plays sparingly. Maxwell is batting a mere .138 this season, with one extra-base hit in 29 at-bats. He received two plate appearances on this trip.
Early on Sunday, the Royals appeared set for a romp. They loaded the bases in the second on two singles and a fielding error. Mariners starter Roenis Elias challenged Escobar with an inside fastball.
“I was looking for contact, to make a good swing,” Escobar said. “I hit the ball good, and the ball was gone.”
But the team’s lead was not built to last. The Mariners were merciless with Guthrie, who could not keep the baseball inside the park. He now has given up 11 home runs, the most in the majors this season. He left with two outs in the fifth.
For two innings, the Royals looked content to accept the outcome. But they came alive in the seventh. Eric Hosmer roped his second double of the game, walks by Danny Valencia and Alex Gordon loaded the bases and Lorenzo Cain made it a one-run game with a sacrifice fly.
On the bench, Yost turned to hitting coach Pedro Grifol. If they could just tie the game, he lamented, their bullpen was set up well. Then Seattle reliever Danny Farquhar fed Giavotella a first-pitch fastball over the middle.
“And ‘Boom,’ it happened,” Yost said. “And, ‘Boom,’ it worked out.”
Giavotella boarded the flight with his teammates. He existed in a sort of limbo. He played the hero on Sunday. By Tuesday, he could be back in the minors. If he went back to Omaha, he said, he would “bite the bullet and make the most of it.”
“I know what my role is,” Giavotella said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been up and down. I’ve been doing it for a few years now. Whatever the team needs me to do.”