Omar Infante stood in front of his locker inside the Royals’ clubhouse this week and used his left hand to pantomime a painful memory. He pointed his left index finger outward, cocked his thumb and pressed his pointer finger against his right elbow, like a needle dulling the pain.
“No more,” Infante said. “It’s much better.”
For the last two years, as Infante continued his career in Kansas City, the injections became an undesirable part of life. His shoulder barked for much of the 2014 season, sapping his arm strength. His elbow throbbed in 2015, eroding his production at the plate. Still, he battled through the pain, requiring routine painkillers to stay on the field.
For now, Infante, 34, is hopeful that the worst discomfort is behind him. After undergoing offseason surgery to shave a bone spur in his right elbow, he reclaimed the starting second-base job with a strong spring. In 15 games, Infante batted .356 (16 for 45) with five doubles and a .396 on-base percentage. He is attempting to carry the production into the regular season, which continues Friday as the Royals open a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
“Now I feel good,” Infante said. “My knees feel good. That’s why I can move better. I feel more healthy, I feel (like I have) more and more power.”
Infante opened the season with two hits and an RBI in the Royals’ victory over the New York Mets. He followed that with a 0-for-3 performance in a loss Tuesday. It’s too early to make any judgments about Infante, and it will likely be that way for at least a couple weeks or more. But to this point, his manager has seen signs that Infante can rebound after a dismal offensive performance in 2015.
“He looks great,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He looks really good. He feels good. He was battling so many things last year.”
The numbers haunted Infante for most of the offseason. He batted .220 with a .234 on-base percentage and 23 doubles in 124 games. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) dipped below .600 for the first time since 2003, his second year in the big leagues. It was, by most measures, the worst offensive year of Infante’s career. By the end of the season, he had lost the second-base job to Ben Zobrist. When spring training began, the Royals declared the second-base job an open competition between Infante and Christian Colon.
In some ways, the Royals wanted to see if Infante was fully healthy after his offseason elbow surgery. He solidified himself as the starter with a strong camp.
Still, Infante must prove himself in the regular season. In 2014, the first year of a four-year contract, he batted .252 with a .292 on-base percentage and six homers. The numbers were not gaudy, but the Royals would welcome similar production in 2016.
In 2015, the Royals’ second basemen combined hit .235 with a .269 on-base percentage and six homers. Until Zobrist took over, the problem persisted as a constant bugaboo. The Royals hope Infante can stabilize the position — for multiple reasons. He is still owed $15.75 million total through 2017.
For now, Colon still exists as an alternative, as does top prospect Raul Mondesi, who is slated for additional offensive seasoning at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. But for the moment, Infante is hopeful to prove his value and reclaim his reputation. His body feels better, he says. The numbers could follow.
“I can play 100 percent,” Infante said. “Before, I couldn’t play 100 percent. I had a lot of problems with my elbow and my shoulder the year before. Now it’s much better.”