The scene has become ritual for the 2016 Royals. Here was Lorenzo Cain, staying up late on Tuesday night, undergoing an MRI on his strained left hamstring, waiting anxiously for the results.
By early Wednesday morning, the tests showed a grade 1-plus strain, which probably will keep Cain out until after the All-Star break. But the prognosis underscored another 2016 theme: The Royals have been ravaged by injuries during the first three months of this season, but other than a season-ending knee injury to third baseman Mike Moustakas, they have mostly avoided total calamity.
“It always could be worse,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
One day after straining his hamstring while trying to leg out an infield single, Cain echoed the sentiment. The Royals placed him on the 15-day disabled list and recalled outfielder Brett Eibner as they prepped for the second half of a four-game series with the Cardinals here at Busch Stadium. And barring any setbacks, he could be ready to return when the Royals open the second half of the season on July 15 at Detroit. At the moment, club officials are hopeful Cain could miss just 12 games.
“That’s the plan,” Cain said. “It just depends how it feels. I’m very optimistic about the MRI that we saw. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to go right after the All-Star break.”
Cain, 30, is batting .290 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs in 73 games. As a two-way player with elite defensive skills, his value is unquestionable: According to FanGraphs, he ranks second on the Royals in wins above replacement, behind catcher Salvador Perez. He is coming off the finest season of his career in 2015, earning his first All-Star appearance and finishing third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.
For now, Yost said he would utilize a combination of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando to fill the void in center field. Dyson started in center field on Wednesday night, while Kendrys Morales made a rare start in right field. With the Royals shifting to National League rules at Busch Stadium, Yost said he was hesitant to be without the offensive production of Cain and Morales.
“If Kendrys didn’t play, that’s two big bats out of that lineup,” Yost said.
Eibner is also positioned to earn playing time in right field during Cain's absence. He was batting .297 with a home run and 11 RBIs before being optioned back to Class AAA Omaha after the return of Alex Gordon from the disabled list.
For Cain, the injury harkened back to his first seasons with the Royals, when a promising career was beset by a series of muscle tears in his legs. He was limited to just 61 games in 2012 and 115 in 2013.
In those days, Cain earned a reputation as an injury-prone player, but a series of adjustments salvaged his career. He began a winter training program with a specialist in Norman, Okla., his offseason home. He saw the benefits as his career took off in 2014 and 2015.
On Tuesday, the injury offered a measure of shock, Cain said. He sprinted toward first base in the bottom of the seventh, lunged toward the bag and felt something tweak in his left hamstring.
“My legs had been feeling really good,” he said. “I ended up touching the bag and then when I tried to slow down; that’s when I felt it. It kind of shocked me at first, but it’s part of the game.”
In the end, of course, it could have been worse. This is not an ideal motto for a major-league baseball team trying to defend its World Series championship, but for the moment, the Royals are prepared to accept another challenge. They have weathered injuries to Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez; they have gotten used to life without Moustakas. Now they must move forward without Cain for the next 12 games.
“I’m happy it’s not worse than it is,” Cain said. “I’m going to do everything possible to rehab and make sure I’m ready to go.”