The pain had lingered for more than a week, sapping the power from his swing and limiting the dexterity in his left hand. On Wednesday, Mike Moustakas could barely grip the bat during a 13-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium. When he arrived to the clubhouse here at Progressive Field on Friday afternoon, he tried to slide his glove on over his enlarged left hand. It was too swollen.
Moments later, Moustakas says, reality set in. He had tried for a week to play through a bone fracture in the base of his left thumb. It was time to rest.
“It was one of those things where I had to be real with myself,” Moustakas said.
On Saturday morning, the Royals placed Moustakas on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Thursday. The club recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert to fill the roster spot. He was in the starting lineup at third base on Saturday against the Indians.
The injury comes at an unfortunate time, with the Royals’ offense mired in an extended slump and Moustakas pacing for a career year in home runs. The offensive unit entered Saturday having scored just 16 runs in its last 10 games. Moustakas was batting .258 with a team-leading seven homers, offering production near the top of the lineup.
The initial prognosis, according to Royals head trainer Nick Kenney, is that Moustakas could miss somewhere between 15 to 21 days. On Saturday, he received a second opinion from Dr. Tom Graham, a hand specialist in Cleveland.
“The way I was feeling, I was able to get some good treatments in before every game,” Moustakas said. “They did a great job of trying to get me ready to play, and at the end of the day, I couldn’t play. What I was doing out on the field wasn’t helping the team at all.”
Moustakas believes he sustained the initial injury April 26 in Anaheim, on a tag play during a 9-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. His thumb was sore the next day, but Moustakas said he refused an X-ray, hoping to play through the pain. He re-aggravated the thumb during his first at-bat on Sunday in Seattle and he underwent an X-ray the next day in Kansas City, which detected the fracture. Royals manager Ned Yost initially said Moustakas was dealing with a “swollen left thumb.”
“They forced me to get the X-ray, because I didn’t want it,” Moustakas said. “I knew what would come out.”
Moustakas missed Monday’s series-opening loss to the Washington Nationals before returning to record a game-tying, pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 7-6 victory. He attempted to play through the pain again on Wednesday, but his strength and grip were limited.
“The game against the Nationals, I couldn’t really hold my bat,” Moustakas said. “I couldn’t really put my glove on. I wasn’t doing myself any good, and I wasn’t doing this team any good.”
While the idea of a fractured thumb appears severe, Yost is hopeful that Moustakas could be back in two to three weeks. According to Kenney, there are two sesamoid bones located where the palm meets the base of the thumb. An injury to one of the sesamoid bones is not as serious as a fracture to the actual finger.
“Two little floating bones,” Kenney said, “and he’s cracked off the edge of one of them.”
Kenney said such a fracture could be a “participation tolerance” injury, meaning that players could theoretically play through the pain. Moustakas, however, was struggling to regain the functionality in his thumb. On Friday afternoon, Moustakas met with Kenney in the hours before the series opener in Cleveland, discussing his options. They opted to shut him down.
“It’s one of those things that’s not going to go away,” Moustakas said. “They gave me every opportunity to play.”