Vahe Gregorian

With Mondesi looming, Escobar appreciates why 'unbelievable' streak about to end

If there’s any measly upside to starting the season 22-50 and being mired in an overhaul, at least the Royals have been liberated from any lingering obligations to nostalgia.

They should still appreciate the recent past, of course. We all should.

But beyond symbolically and culturally, there is precious little of that left to grow on. And surely soon to be even less.

So, forward … such as it is.

“It’s a good chance to experiment right now,” manager Ned Yost said Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium before the Royals took on Texas. “There’s nothing to make us or break us. We can start looking at things a little differently.”

So the club dismantling to restock itself dealt closer Kelvin Herrera for prospects on Monday night, and now who knows if any veteran is untouchable — or should be — considering this first season of rebuilding has played out even worse than the dire forecasts.

“I really thought next year would be the year that we would really, really struggle,” general manager Dayton Moore lamented Monday — without expanding on how this fiasco might play into 2019.


This is why sometime in the next few days another substantial, telling shake-up awaits:

For the first time since May 7, 2015, someone besides Alcides Escobar will start at shortstop for the Royals.

Thus will end Escobar’s club-record streak for consecutive starts at 406 as of Tuesday night.

For context, the last shortstop to have a longer streak was Cal Ripken Jr., who set the major-league record with 2,216 straight for Baltimore from 1982-96.

Of course, the Royals could extend Escobar’s overall starting streak by playing him at second base, third or even center field, Yost said, on the first day Adalberto Mondesi starts at short and tries to begin to lay claim to the job for years to come.

However it’s administered, count Escobar, who was hitting .206 and just 3 of his last 48 at the plate entering the game Tuesday, among those who know the time has come to give way.

In fact, when told about the team’s intention to soon start Mondesi at short a few times a week, Yost said Escobar brought up the idea of trying to mentor him.

In an interview with The Star earlier Tuesday, the smooth-fielding, erratic-hitting Escobar said he wasn’t scared of what needed to take place and was prepared to do whatever he could for Mondesi.

“He’s a really good kid; I told to him, ‘Anything you need, just let me know and I’ll be here for you, man,’ ” he said, adding that he knows one day soon “the future” will be due.

It’s tempting to say this was overdue, and the streak might seem trivial in any big-picture sense.

But it was a point of enormous pride for Escobar, who as of Tuesday had added 73 games to it since it appeared his ties to the Royals would be severed when he entered free agency after last season.

And it’s been part of something Moore said the Royals admired about him and wanted “to manage” respectfully.

Something that spoke to what Yost and Moore consider Escobar’s unique makeup of genetics and sheer will.

Like fellow Venezuelan Sal Perez, Yost said, Escobar’s love of the game and sense of duty is such that “it’s like you spit on them when you tell them they’ve got a day off.”

Words Escobar hasn’t heard in more than three years and seldom before that through 1,370 big-league games. That has included three seasons in which he played all 162 games — the only Royal to do so even once.

The streak is “unbelievable, and I’m happy for that,” Escobar said.

“Unbelievable” is a fine word for much of what has happened with Escobar in his time with the Royals, which began with the organization essentially acquiring Lorenzo Cain and him for Zack Greinke in 2010.

It has included Yost sticking with him when he was overmatched at the plate in 2011 to prime the pump for when it mattered more.

It’s featured the illogical impact of him as a leadoff hitter who seldom walked and the whole wacky swing-at-the-first-pitch thing that helped make him the ALCS MVP in 2015 and led to an inside-the-park home run in the first inning of the 2015 World Series.

It also has featured an improbable return to the team this year as the Royals sought to move on but found him available at a bargain rate of $2.5 million with up to $1.5 million more in potential bonuses.

They also signed him as a measure of where they thought Mondesi stood.

As much as the Royals knew Mondesi, 23, has to learn to perform at this level, they also were wary of how overwhelmed at the plate he often has been in stints over two seasons (hitting .181 in 188 at-bats, although 5 for 11 in 10 games last September).

They also were and are concerned about what he has lacked in comparison to Escobar.

“We just didn’t trust the overall health of (Mondesi), unfortunately,” Moore said Monday. “He’s a tremendous talent, as you know, but he’s got to stay on the field. If he doesn’t stay on the field, he does nobody any good. It’s just unfortunate, but that’s the truth.”

Now, as Yost put it Tuesday, “we want (Mondesi) to play the game” and explore the potential of the blend of speed and power he flashed again Monday with an RBI double.

And … they want him to play shortstop, the apparent end of another era.

“That’s pretty big, seeing somebody different at short,” Yost said. “But, you know, it’s exciting, too. Because now you’re starting to give other younger players opportunities to see what they can do.”

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