Hours after the Royals’ stupefying and excruciating losing streak elongated to 11 on Thursday afternoon in Detroit, general manager Dayton Moore sat outside a suite gazing out at Arvest Ballpark after a day spent entirely on the phone and consumed with the spiral.
“I didn’t see this coming,” he said. “But I remain extremely positive about our team. We all believe in them.”
Beyond that faith, though, he took some solace and found further hope in what was about to unfurl before him.
Playing for the first time together in a game that counts (albeit one for Class AA Northwest Arkansas) would be Adalberto Mondesi and the phenom being introduced as “Bobby Witt Juuuuuunior” over the P.A. system just as Moore began speaking.
When it was suggested this might be a soothing glimpse of a future with a healthy Mondesi back at shortstop and Witt establishing himself at third, Moore said, “Oh, it’s got a chance to be special … I’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
Actually, in fact, plenty longer than that. And well before he knew they’d converge here with Witt hoisting his way up through the system and Mondesi on an injury rehabilitation assignment from a strained right oblique he suffered at the end of spring training.
In the Royals view, the two are pillars of the future.
Over the winter, Moore told owner John Sherman that he considers it a priority for the franchise to maximize the amount of time 31-year-old Salvador Perez, Mondesi (25) and Witt (20) can be on the field together.
“We’ve got to figure out how to do that as long as we can,” Moore said. “And if we can do that, it’s got the makings of a really good lineup.”
Assuming Perez continues swigging from the fountain of youth that somehow preserves his vitality despite the weathering that comes with the catcher position, and surmising that Witt is on a near-term but not imminent trajectory, Mondesi is the greatest immediate X-factor both in terms of when he’ll make his return … and how long he can stay healthy.
First things first: Before Mondesi played seven innings and went 0 for 3 with a walk (including 0 for 2 hitting from the left side, a crucial marker in his recovery process), Moore said Mondesi is scheduled to be in Northwest Arkansas through the weekend before the Royals re-evaluate with their “medical people” — whose timeline they will trust over anything the baseball people might think.
If all proceeds well from a health standpoint, Mondesi may stay with the Naturals for their road trip next week to Springfield, Missouri, or perhaps join Class AAA Omaha for its series next week in Des Moines.
In a separate conversation at Arvest, Rafael Belliard, an advisor to Moore who said a priority in his job is Mondesi and traveled with him to Arizona and here for his rehab, said he hoped that Mondesi could return by May 18th against Milwaukee at Kauffman Stadium.
After the game, in his first interview since the injury, Mondesi said “right now I feel normal” and even used the word “ready” from the right side and figures he just needs “a couple more at-bats from the left side and see that I’m 100 percent healthy.”
He added that he can’t wait to be back with the guys and “win some games.”
But Moore, who largely believes Mondesi is ready other than in terms of at-bats from the left side, offered a best-case scenario of May 21st against Detroit at Kauffman.
Much as he knows the Royals need Mondesi immediately if not sooner, he also doesn’t want to add pressure that might backfire in any number of ways mentally or physically. Most of all, he knows injuries such as these are unpredictable and can be fragile or even delicate to deal with.
“We don’t want any setbacks,” he said.
Along those lines, whenever Mondeis is deemed healthy, Moore isn’t averse to Mondesi returning even if he’s not hitting well and “allowing him to progress from a production standpoint at the major-league level.”
That production at the plate has been streaky but comes with a celestial ceiling encapsulated in his spectacular last month of last season, when Mondesi produced a .297/.350/.550 slash line, six home runs, 20 RBIs, 23 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.
Even if one way or another it’s likely it will take what Moore called “some time” for Mondesi to be consistently productive at the plate back in the big leagues, Moore also figures Mondesi will automatically have an instant impact between his defense, speed and sheer athleticism.
“I think his presence is going to be really, really important,” Moore said, later adding, “The dynamic ability of Mondi is going to be really important for our team if we’re going to win.”
Then he paused, essentially acknowledging Mondesi’s injury-prone career, and added, “We’ve talked about this for a while now: This guy’s just got to be on the field every single day, or as much as possible. And if he is, he’ll put up his numbers and we’ll win a lot of games. But he’s got to be on the field.”
In this case, Mondesi came off the field thinking he was OK after the last spring training game. But by the time he woke up the next morning, his right side was what he called “tight” … and what Belliard said Mondesi had described as feeling like he’d been knifed.
“I didn’t know that it was going to be that bad,” Mondesi said. “But we’re back.”
At least seemingly in the near future … with Witt perhaps not entirely far behind.
“I know he’s going to be up there, soon up there,” Mondesi said, smiling.
Even if each almost can’t come soon enough, all in good time for better days ahead. Or at least a little something more to believe in.