Cuthbert homers, flashes leather in KC return

June 1st, 2019

ARLINGTON -- The Royals decided on Friday that they needed more offensive production from a utility infielder than had proven capable of this season, and his replacement, , immediately provided a glimpse of what had been missing.

Starting at third base, Cuthbert homered in his first at-bat after being recalled from Triple-A Omaha prior to a 6-2 loss to the Rangers at Globe Life Park. Cuthbert took over the roster spot Owings had occupied before he was designated for assignment. Cuthbert also made a slick play to field a hard grounder to his left in the third inning.

“He made a great play on defense on that one scorched ball, but here, he’s always been a good defender at third base for us so that’s kind of expected,” manager Ned Yost said.

Owings spent the first six years of his MLB career with the D-backs before the Royals signed him to a one-year, $3 million deal. He hit just .133 in 40 games for Kansas City, striking out 55 times in 145 plate appearances -- a 37.9 percent strikeout rate. His OPS was a paltry .415.

“Chris has been working so hard to try to get his offense going, he just couldn’t do it,” Yost said. “He just really struggled to put himself in a position to make contact. ... Cuthbert was swinging the bat really, really well [at Omaha] and we just got to a point where we need to continue to try to move forward.”

The Royals significantly reduced Owings’ playing time over the past month, hoping it would help him overcome the prolonged slump. But he hit .077 with 21 strikeouts in 41 plate appearances during May, culminating in a four-strikeout night in Kansas City’s 4-2 win over Texas in the series opener on Thursday.

“It was one of those situations, [the] rough night last night was kind of the catalyst for, ‘Let’s just go ahead and make the move,’” Yost said.

Owings’ stellar defense -- including a crucial barehanded play at third on Thursday -- could not save his job, especially considering the Royals lost third baseman Hunter Dozier to tightness in his right side on Thursday. Dozier is day to day and Cuthbert started at third base on Friday night.

Cuthbert, 26, has played in parts of four seasons with the Royals, including a breakout year in 2016, when he hit a career-high .276 with 12 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .731 OPS. He hit .215 with a .591 OPS over the next two seasons, though, and he did not make the Major League roster this spring.

With Omaha this season, Cuthbert was hitting .310 (61-for-197) with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 51 games. He started more games at first base (26) and DH (16) than at third base (nine) this season for the Storm Chasers. He also has Major League experience at second base.

“I’m here for anywhere they need me -- I’m just happy to be back,” Cuthbert said. “It feels like I’ve been for a long time away from the team. It was just a process, sometimes you’re struggling in your career, you learn from it and try to get better, and I want to make the most of the opportunity I’m getting right now.”

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

The Royals invested in Owings hoping that his combination of defensive ability, versatility and speed would fit in well, but his lack of offensive production ultimately outweighed all the benefits.

“We need to continue to try to find ways to get offense,” Yost said. “The bottom of our lineup has really struggled and this was a move that we didn’t want to make, but had to make.”