Meaningful games were going on at all levels, all around the country. Baseball season started in March for major-league clubs and April in the minors, and Eric Skoglund wasn’t part of any of it.
Instead, Skoglund spent his days in extended spring training hitting the field for 7:30 a.m. stretch every day in Surprise, Ariz.
Skoglund, a left-handed pitcher whom the Royals recalled on Friday prior to the second game of their series in Detroit, served an 80-game suspension for violating the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program following a positive test for banned substances Ostarine and Ligandrol.
Skoglund insisted in an emotional press conference during spring training in Arizona that he did not knowingly take any banned substance.
“It was tough, definitely an eye-opener,” Skoglund said of being away from the team. “It changed my perspective on a lot of things about baseball, life, and being a better person, a better teammate and being willing to help others and do whatever I can to shed my knowledge, especially to the younger guys when I was down there in extended spring training.”
He started a minor-league rehab assignment on June 11, and the Royals reinstated him from the restricted list and optioned him to Triple-A Omaha on June 26.
“Thankful. Blessed,” Skoglund said of being called back up to the majors. “It’s been a long season. So I’m very fortunate, and I’m just happy to finally be back with the guys. Thankful for sure.”
Last season, Skoglund went 1-6 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). He also registered 49 strikeouts in 70.0 innings, a 1.21 WHIP and a .246 opponents batting average. He’s made 18 starts in the majors, all for the Royals.
Skoglund will be available in long relief out of the bullpen at least initially for the Royals, who used Jorge Lopez in a spot start on Thursday night and went through six relievers after Lopez didn’t make it through the second inning.
Lopez started in place of Danny Duffy, who went on the injured list with a left hamstring strain earlier this week. The Royals have off-days on Monday and Thursday this coming week, so they will not immediately need a fifth starter in their rotation.
In 11 starts this season in the minors (61.0 innings), Skoglund has gone 2-4 with a 6.49 ERA, a 1.62 WHIP, 39 strikeouts, 82 hits and 17 walks. Opponents have batted .329 against him. He’s thrown three quality starts in notoriously offensive-heavy Pacific Coast League.
“I feel healthy,” Skoglund said. “I feel good. I put together some good starts, and I’m just trying to kind of roll with that. I feel confident, healthy, and I’m extremely happy to be back and thankful.”
The Royals optioned right-hander Kyle Zimmer to Omaha in a corresponding move to make room for Skoglund on the active roster. Zimmer continues to struggle with command, and he walked the first three batters he faced with on Thursday night before he gave up two runs in 1 1/3 innings.
“He has worked so hard to get himself healthy,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Zimmer. “He’s healthy, but this game ain’t about standing on the mound, rearing back and firing as hard as you can. This game is about feel and touch and being a pitcher, not a thrower. Right now, he’s just a total thrower.”