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His shirt was untucked and his face was red. Ned Yost walked through the Royals clubhouse at a measured pace. In the minutes after a 4-3 Opening Day loss to Detroit, he leaned back in a chair inside the visitors’ office in Comerica Park and started to decompress.
MILWAUKEE – Ned Yost remained stone-faced, even as he delivered news that allowed the Royals to breathe a sigh of relief: Second baseman Omar Infante is expected to be ready for opening day.
The key to the critical questions facing the Royals in the final weekend of spring spend Friday afternoon more than 1,800 miles away from his teammates, testing his balky right elbow in a minor-league game.
The Royals learned a lot about themselves during their 36-day stay in Surprise, Ariz. As they prepare to open the regular season Monday after two exhibition games in Milwaukee, here’s a look at five things they came to grips with in the desert:
On the first day of workouts here, a ground ball struck Royals reliever Louis Coleman on the middle finger of his right hand. He sat out for the first week of Cactus League games. The Royals referred to the injury as a jammed finger. On Wednesday morning, manager Ned Yost revealed the actual extent of the damage.
Royals infielder Omar Infante played five innings in a minor-league game on Tuesday. He worked a walk and scored a run. He completed two throws. And he still felt a lingering pinch when he threw and when he hit, he said. Over the weekend, he said he only felt the grab when he swung a bat.
He is now in the second season of a three-year contract worth $24 million. As 2014 approaches, he is the teams fourth starter, a quiet but critical piece to this clubs puzzle. The team would be delighted if he replicated his output from last season. The question is: Can he?
After a pair of unimpressive appearances, the Royals have pulled the plug on their experiment using Danny Duffy as a reliever. He was optioned to Class AAA Omaha on Sunday morning. Duffy was the highest-profile of four roster moves: Lefty reliever Donnie Joseph was also optioned to Omaha; right-handers Cory Wade and P.J. Walters were re-assigned to minor-league camp.
Second baseman Omar Infante minimized his concern about the bone spur in his right elbow. But his status is worth monitoring as the Royals head into their final days in the Cactus League, one of the few lingering issues for a club with almost all of its major roster decisions made.
Teen music sensation Lorde was in Kansas City on Friday and the Royals gave her an autographed copy of the photo of George Brett that inspired her Grammy-winning song Royals.
Salvador Perez arrived to the Royals clubhouse a couple hours later than usual on Thursday morning. The events of the previous evening, in which his line drive struck Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the head, left him still somewhat unnerved. “It hit my heart right there,” Perez said.
For weeks, Royals officials said that Danny Duffy was best served heading to Class AAA Omaha to work as a starter. The winds changed as Duffy, the 25-year-old lefty, floundered this spring, and the organization pondered how to actualize his considerable, confounding talent while protecting his surgically-repaired arm. The exact plan has not been decided upon, but their hopes for Duffy have not changed.
The right-hander entered this camp as the favorite for the job, and he will start the third game of the season, on April 3 in Detroit. Ventura left little doubt on Monday. He struck out six Rangers in six scoreless innings of a 6-0 victory at Surprise Stadium. He allowed four singles and walked none.
At the bottom of a heap, Stan Jurga Jr. of All Star Sporting Goods found a group of decade-old catcher’s masks. They were Kelly green, solid steel and about a quarter-pound heavier than hollow steel masks — potentially ideal, in other words, for the Royals’ ongoing quest to protect Salvador Perez.
Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland praised Ventura’s aptitude at such a young age. But to emphasize his lessons, he has enlisted the help of Chen, James Shields and catcher Salvador Perez.
Outfielder Jarrod Dyson, the most successful 50th-round pick in the last two decades, is not guaranteed a spot on the Royals' roster, but his place feels secure. He appeals as both an insurance policy for oft-injured center fielder Lorenzo Cain and a prized late-game pinch runner.
Royals manager Ned Yost indicated his level of concern was none after catcher Salvador Perez took a foul tip off his hand. He only suffered a bruise. Still, any injury involving Perez is a cause for at least a small bit of worry. He is likely the most irreplaceable player on this club, a 23-year-old with burgeoning offensive skills and a Gold Glove already on his resume.
The realization dawned on Luke Hochevar on Thursday afternoon inside a doctor’s office in Los Angeles. Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers team physician, presented Hochevar with three options for the partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The third option was the only realistic one. Hochevar will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, which robs the team of a dynamic reliever and could mark the end of Hochevar’s Royals career.
The twinge shot up Luke Hochevar’s right arm on perhaps the second-to-last pitch of his checkered Royals career. He finished the frame Monday afternoon, but a subsequent MRI revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and strained muscle tissue around the joint, a diagnosis that could result in season-ending Tommy John surgery.
In 27 days, James Shields intends to stand atop the mound at Comerica Park in Detroit as the Royals Opening Day starter for the second year in a row. He will also cross a self-imposed deadline for any contract negotiations. Shields has said repeatedly he does not want to discuss any extension once the season begins.