CHICAGO — Kyle Isbel was quick to announce his return to the Royals on Thursday afternoon, hitting a two-run single in the 10th inning and sending Kansas City to a 5-2 series finale victory over the White Sox at the Domain guaranteed rate.
And it’s safe to say the Royals needed that win. Not just because of Brad Keller’s departure, facing one over seven innings, limiting Chicago to one run on three hits, but also because of pre-game news, when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was placed on the 10-day injured list with a torn left ACL, ruling out the 26-year-old shortstop for an indefinite but significant amount of time.
“Obviously the news shook the whole clubhouse,” said Keller, who now has a 2.19 ERA in four starts. “It’s tough. He’s such a good player, and it seems when he’s healthy he’s one of the best in the league.
“For us to go out there and get a win, you see him smiling at the clubhouse. … It’s a morale boost.
Mondesi tore his ligament on Tuesday night when he escaped from first base trying to steal. He stopped and felt a pop, President of Baseball Operations Dayton Moore said, and when Mondesi dove into the bag during a pick-up attempt moments later, he got up and walked. left the field and entered the tunnel.
The Royals hoped they could avoid the worst after initial post-game scans, but an MRI taken offsite on Wednesday revealed structural damage.
“Your heart sinks,” Moore said. “He keeps having those kinds of setbacks. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason – of course we haven’t had the chance to communicate like we always do. [because of the lockout], but obviously he did everything he was asked to do. And came into spring training looking and feeling good. It’s just a shame.”
Mondesi will return to Kansas City with the team on Thursday night and will be evaluated over the weekend by team doctors before determining the next step and a recovery schedule. Surgery is a possibility but hasn’t been decided yet, and usually ACL tears take about a year to heal, although the injury can be different for everyone.
As the Royals waited to hear the timing of Mondesi’s resumption, the infield moved in his absence.
Nicky Lopez will slide to shortstop after starting the year at second base, while Whit Merrifield will move from right field to second base, where he was a finalist for the Gold Glove last season.
Lopez showed Thursday that he will pick up where he left off last season, making a few plays that may appear on his highlights reel. He helped convert a quick double play in the fourth inning, when Gavin Sheets crashed hard into first baseman Carlos Santana. Santana walked first and pitched to second, where Lopez threw the one-hopper through Andrew Vaughn’s legs and applied the tag.
Meanwhile, Bobby Witt Jr. will stay at third base. The MLB No. 1-ranked prospect is a natural shortstop and can play the position long-term, but he’s their best option defensively in the hot corner, against Hunter Dozier and Emmanuel Rivera.
The Royals quickly made the infield change when Mondesi left Tuesday’s game. What won’t happen that quickly is recovering from another injury, something Mondesi has often had to deal with in his seven-year career.
“We talked a lot yesterday, last night, this morning,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Just keep on [encourage] him, keep loving him and let him know it’s a tough hand and we wouldn’t want to see him cross again.
“He just keeps doing things that are hard to explain.”
The 26-year-old has been limited for several years, with his only full season coming when he has played 59 out of 60 games in the pandemic-shortened season. The most games he played in the regular season was 102 in 2019.
Mondesi missed a month in 2018 with right shoulder impingement syndrome, a month in 2019 with a groin sprain and nearly two months later that year with a left shoulder subluxation, qu suffered during the offseason.
Last season, Mondesi missed all but 35 games with two different oblique strains and a hamstring injury.
The club hoped 2022 would be different for the hitter who makes looking spectacular easy with his unique blend of power, speed and defense.
The Royals thought about creating a load management plan for Mondesi, thinking it could help keep him healthy. But the nature of his injuries and the unpredictability of when and who will be injured led the Royals to scrap that plan in spring training.
Additionally, the scheduled days off and rains in the first month gave Mondesi enough time to feel rested and healthy.
“You look at the nature of what he was doing, we weren’t on the pitch before the game [because of the cold weather], the effort – you just have to play,” Moore said. “You can’t guess that at all. You cannot guess it. He tried to handle some things differently.
It’s reasonable to wonder what the future holds for Mondesi, who are earning $3 million this season. Seven years have passed since his debut in the 2015 World Series, but the club have only seen flashes of his brilliant potential.
Yet Mondesi is only 26 and remains under the club’s control until 2023. The Royals rave about his passion and desire to play, which makes the seemingly endless injuries all the more painful.
Questions about how the Royals will face Mondesi’s future hover. For now, the team has thrown their full support behind him.
“Our locker room took a hit,” Lopez said. “…I can speak for a lot of people in the team. Our heart breaks for him.