Kansas City Royals

Royals’ Whit Merrifield has moved past groin issue and is full go

When Whit Merrifield went into right field late in Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, he played the outfield for the first time since April 11. Merrifield started nine of the first 12 games of the season in right field.

Groin tightness caused Royals manager Ned Yost to limit Merrifield’s time in the outfield. Merrifield, who will start at second base on Thursday, started five consecutive games at second prior to coming off the bench as a defensive replacement in the outfield on Wednesday in Chicago.

Yost said on Thursday that he had no concerns about starting Merrifield in the outfield. Merrifield has gotten past any effects of the groin ailment, which Yost described as “very very minor.”

“It’s gone,” Merrifield said prior to the team’s opening game of a four-game set in New York against the Yankees. “... It was just — stuff happens during the course of the year. You know, it’s not the first and last time something will be tight on me. It really wasn’t a big deal.”

Merrifield enters Thursday’s season opener in the Bronx batting .320 with a .350 on-base percentage and a team-high 14 runs scored.

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Hot bat: With the Royals in the middle of a stretch of nearly three weeks between off days, Yost had been giving each of his everyday starters a day off this past week. With that came some lineup shuffling, but one lineup change has stuck. Hot-hitting Hunter Dozier has taken over the cleanup spot, at least temporarily, in place of Jorge Soler.

In his past eight games, Dozier has batted .467 with four home runs and seven RBIs.

Dozier batted behind Alex Gordon the previous three games, including one game in the No. 3 hole when Gordon batted second behind Whit Merrifield with Adalberto Mondesi getting that night off.

“We got out main on-base guys — Whit, Mondi, Gordon — in front of him, and he’s hot right now,” Yost said. “Drive them in, take advantage of it while he’s swinging the bat well.”

Back to the Bronx: Royals pitcher Jakob Junis is scheduled to make his first start at Yankee Stadium since July 26, 2018. That game was significant in that an errant pitch from Junis hit Yankee All-Star slugger Aaron Judge and caused a chip fracture in Judge’s wrist. The injury sidelined Judge until September 14.

That incident prompted some threats on social media from Yankees fans towards Junis as a result of Judge’s injury.

Barlow earning trust: Scott Barlow earned the first save of his career in Wednesday’s win against the White Sox. Barlow has pitched five consecutive scoreless innings over his past three appearances.

“You get an opportunity and you do good, you’re going to get a little more of an opportunity,” Yost said. “If you do good, you’re going to get a little more of an opportunity. He’s kind of checked off the boxes. Every time we’ve put him out there, he’s done good.”

Thursday’s lineup

1. Whit Merrifield, 2b

2. Adalberto Mondesi, ss

3. Alex Gordon, lf

4. Hunter Dozier, 3b

5. Ryan O’Hearn, 1b

6. Jorge Soler, rf

7. Lucas Duda, dh

8. Martin Maldonado, c

9. Billy Hamilton, cf

Starting pitcher: Homer Bailey (rh, 1-1, 5.29)

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.