KANSAS CITY -- Adalberto Mondesi will open the season on the injured list because of a right oblique strain, the Royals announced Wednesday, placing the starting shortstop on the 10-day IL. In a corresponding move, Kansas City recalled Nicky Lopez from Triple-A Omaha the day before opening the regular season against the Rangers at Kauffman Stadium.
The move was an unexpected and quick blow to the Royals’ otherwise healthy Spring Training. Mondesi felt something “minor” in his first at-bat in Monday’s Cactus League finale against the Indians, manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday. After bunting in his second at-bat and then leaving the game with the regulars to head to Kansas City, the minor issue turned into something bigger on Tuesday, prompting the move to the injured list.
Mondesi hit .256 with a Major League-leading 24 stolen bases in 59 games last season. After slumping for much of the season, he was great over the last month, hitting .376/.424/.706 with a 1.130 OPS and all six of his home runs over his final 22 games. The 25-year-old has dealt with injury issues in the past -- Mondesi's career high for games played is 102 in 2019. He was coming off a healthy offseason for the first time in a few years and looking forward to starting the season healthy.
“Going in and talking to him today, he felt so dejected -- the fact that he was going to be a big part of what we were doing [the] first day,” Matheny said. “But we all know things happen and we’re going to have to pivot. That’s just part of this game.”
The move is retroactive to Tuesday, but Matheny said Mondesi’s recovery could take “at least a couple weeks.” He is in Kansas City and is shut down from most activity for now.
“It’s him being smart and doing exactly what they say,” Matheny said. “If you don’t give it the time that it needs, it’s going to haunt you. He’s got a lot of trust in our training staff, they know what they’re doing, so he’s got a pretty clear path to get back as quick as he can.”
While Mondesi recovers, the Royals will turn to Lopez at shortstop, with utilityman Hanser Alberto ready to fill in when needed there as well. Lopez was optioned to Triple-A Omaha on Sunday after a tough spring, with Whit Merrifield reclaiming the Royals' regular second-base job. Though he’s been excellent defensively in his two big league seasons, the 26-year-old Lopez has underwhelmed at the plate, hitting .228 with a .586 OPS in 594 plate appearances.
The opportunity to get back in the starting lineup came quicker than he and the Royals were expecting, but Matheny expressed his confidence in Lopez, who has worked the past week on adjustments to his swing to get back to the contact hitter he was in the Minor Leagues.
“It’s going to take some time and some work, and what we’re telling him is, 'Go be you on the field, on the defensive side of the field,'” Matheny said. “'We need you to go out there and play a great shortstop for us, and then be prepared to do the little things that you can do to help us win a ballgame when you’re at the plate and take those quality at-bats that we know you can put together.'
“We’re just going to keep working and talking, and he’s going to get there. … He’s getting a great opportunity, one that we didn’t see coming, neither did he, and I’m excited to watch what he does with it. I think he’ll make the most of it.”
Isbel to start in right field
The Royals will add top outfield prospect Kyle Isbel to the 40-man roster and plug him right into the Opening Day lineup on Thursday, starting him in right field for his Major League debut, Matheny said Wednesday. Isbel got a ton of work in right field at Kauffman Stadium during Wednesday’s workout, making sure he was familiar with the expansive outfield ahead of his first start.
Isbel had an excellent spring, hitting .333 with a .968 OPS across 50 plate appearances. He continually impressed the coaching staff with his outfield defense and quality at-bats, including his hard-hit rate. When the Royals moved Merrifield to second base midway through spring, Isbel began to see more starts in right field, signaling that an Opening Day roster spot was coming.
“Wherever we put him, even in center field, he fits.” Matheny said. “The way he takes his at-bats, we’ve watched all spring, it’s another level forward. He’s a guy who made the most out of the alternate site last year. To be able to have that conversation, those are some of the highlights of having this job, letting a young player like Kyle know, and telling him today that he’s going to be in that starting lineup, this is something they’ve worked for their entire lives. You never take it for granted. It’s special.”
• The Royals are still working through what their lineup will look like on Thursday without Mondesi, but Matheny revealed at least who will be where on the field: Andrew Benintendi in left field, Michael A. Taylor in center, Isbel in right, Hunter Dozier at third base, Lopez at shortstop, Merrifield at second, Carlos Santana at first, Salvador Perez catching and Jorge Soler as the designated hitter.
• On Wednesday, Ryan McBroom took reps as the backup first baseman, and he’ll likely be the Royals’ go-to pinch hitter to open the season, winning that battle over Ryan O’Hearn, who was sent to the alternate training site on Tuesday. Pitchers Jake Brentz and Ervin Santana were the other players besides Isbel not on the 40-man roster at Wednesday’s workout, signaling their likelihood to be added ahead of Opening Day.
“I told them I’ve worn them out with all my speeches and meetings. They need to hear one thing from me, and that one thing is they’re ready. They’ve heard what they needed to hear. They’ve done the work that they needed to do. They prepared, they competed the way they’ve needed to compete. … [I] wanted to make sure that they knew that we believed in them, and you can tell, they believe in themselves and each other. It’s a beautiful place to be right now and can’t wait to unleash it tomorrow.” -- Matheny on his message to his team ahead of Opening Day