Royals’ Whit Merrifield grabs hold of starting second-base job

In an unofficial capacity, Whit Merrifield has supplanted Omar Infante as the Royals’ regular second baseman.
In an unofficial capacity, Whit Merrifield has supplanted Omar Infante as the Royals’ regular second baseman.

Royals utility man Whit Merrifield started at second base for the fourth straight day on Monday, the lineup card here at Camden Yards revealing what manager Ned Yost will not say publicly.

In an unofficial capacity, Merrifield has supplanted Omar Infante as the Royals’ regular second baseman. On Monday, he was starting at the position for the seventh time in ninth games. In a pregame session with reporters, Yost revealed that Merrifield’s last day off — a curious rest day during a 5-4 loss to Cleveland on Thursday — was initiated by a minor groin injury.

“The day off actually helped him,” Yost said, “and he’s feeling fine.”

When the season began, Yost outlined a plan to play Infante close to five days per week. Yost believed the extra rest would help the 34-year-old Infante remain productive at the plate and in the field. But after more than two months of sample size, Yost is backing off that plan.

Infante has not played since unleashing a poor throw that cost the Royals a run in the loss on Thursday. Entering Monday, he had played just four times in the last 12 games.

“He’s not going to go five days a week right now,” Yost said of Infante. “Whit’s doing a good job at second base. He’s been more productive.”

The evidence is clear enough. Merrifield entered Monday batting .328 with six doubles in his first 15 major-league games. He set a club record by recording a hit in the first 11 starts of his Royals career. His defense, Yost said, has also been sound.

Infante, meanwhile, has continued to show signs of decline, batting .239 with a .279 on-base percentage in 38 games. His defense — a hallmark of his value for years — has also appeared to have eroded in recent seasons.

The numbers present a delicate situation for the Royals, who still owe Infante more than $12.5 million in guaranteed money through the 2017 season.

For now, though, Yost has yet to officially name Merrifield as his starter at second base. Last week, he would only say that Merrifield, a utility man with the ability to play multiple positions, would log the majority of his playing time at second base.

“We can’t keep going to the whip with Whit,” Yost said on Monday. “I would love to play Whit five days a week. But right now, obviously, he’s playing good defense for us, which plays a premium for us and [he’s] swinging the bat OK.

“My ideal scenario, we’d play Whit, (Paulo) Orlando and (Jarrod) Dyson like five days per week. We would just kind of interchange those guys.”

Injury updates

▪ Right-hander Kris Medlen threw live batting practice on Monday in Surprise, Ariz., his latest step in a recovery from inflammation in his right shoulder. Medlen is scheduled to throw another live batting practice session this week at the Royals' complex in Arizona before potentially heading out on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues.

▪ Outfielder Brett Eibner continued to show progress in his return from a left ankle sprain. One day after testing his ankle with a slew of early defensive work, Eibner hit early batting practice Monday at Camden Yards.

Eibner was placed on the disabled list June 1 after suffering the ankle sprain in a 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium. He is eligible to return to the 25-man roster on June 16.

Eibner said he was hopeful he would return after missing just 15 days.

"There’s still some hesitation," he said. "There’s some things as far as cutting in the outfield, and not only that, game speed is a lot different."