Infante passes final test as Royals set roster
Second baseman to join club in Detroit, Coleman to start season on disabled list
MILWAUKEE -- Good news for Royals watchers: Second baseman Omar Infante is expected to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day at Detroit.
Infante passed his final playing test in a Minor League game on Saturday at Surprise, Ariz., and is almost certain to avoid being on the disabled list when the season begins on Monday afternoon.
The Royals placed pitchers Louis Coleman and Luke Hochevar on the disabled list, released veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez and assigned infielder Jason Donald to Triple-A Omaha.
That meant that Pedro Ciriaco is on the 25-man roster as a backup middle infielder, in the event Infante needs relief; that Brett Hayes is the backup catcher as expected, and that the club will open the season with 11 pitchers instead of 12 as originally planned.
Infante played five innings on Saturday, got six trips to the plate and went 3-for-4 with a couple of walks, according to manager Ned Yost. He also turned a couple of double plays.
"I figured he'd be fine," Yost said. "We just had to play it out and see where we were going."
Infante was to join the Royals in Detroit on Saturday night.
That means the 25-man roster is virtually set for the opener, pending Sunday's workout.
"We'll still see how Omar feels, but he's really rebounded nicely the last couple of days, and felt good going into each workout and each game down there," Yost said. "And he's gotten 25 at-bats or so in the last four or five days so it's been a pretty good test for him. He feels pretty good."
Signed to a four-year, $30.25-million contract this winter, Infante was something of a phantom in Spring Training. He played in just eight games, missing time early because of a stiff shoulder and more recently because of a new elbow ailment -- both in his right throwing shoulder.
He was obtained to bat second behind new leadoff man Nori Aoki and team with shortstop Alcides Escobar to form a defensively adept middle of the infield. That seemed in doubt until Infante underwent an extensive program this week to test his elbow and passed the test.
In his limited Cactus League play, Infante hit .333 (8-for-24) including three doubles.
Ciriaco is something of an unknown commodity although he's a regarded as a good defensive middle infielder and has hit well in his limited Major League experience. He's 28 and was a part-time player for the Pirates, Red Sox and Padres before being claimed off waivers by the Royals last July 16. Called up in September by Kansas City, he played in five games.
In his 163 big league games, the right-handed-hitting Ciriaco has a .277 average which is actually four points higher than his career mark in the Minors. He's played seven different positions in the Majors, mostly shortstop (49 games) and third base (47). He's logged 21 games at second base.
Donald, 29, played parts of three big league seasons with the Indians and as a rookie in 2010 started 44 games at shortstop and 40 at second base. He's also played third base and the outfield. The tipping point was that Donald, as a non-roster player, could be sent to the Minors and Ciriaco was out of options.
There was concern at the start of training camp when Coleman's middle finger of his right hand was jammed by a ball during pitchers' fielding practice. It was swollen but soon Coleman resumed pitching and little was said about his finger for several weeks.
Then last Wednesday, Yost mentioned that the finger had continued to bother Coleman and that he had a bone bruise which affected his ability to control his pitches. At that point it appeared the bone bruise might need two more weeks to heal and Coleman was left in Arizona along with Infante.
Hernandez, at 37, was the oldest player still with the Royals and had the most experience with more than 14 years of big league service time. He broke in with the A's and also caught for the Padres, Orioles, Reds, Rockies and Dodgers with a career average of .263. He was in six postseasons, four with the A's.
A sore knee kept Hernandez from catching until late in the Cactus League season, but he played some first base and hit .391 (9-for-23) in 16 games. He had an opt-out in his Minor League contract and exercised it when he did not make the Major League club.
Hayes, a former backup catcher for the Marlins, had been the leader to be behind Salvador Perez throughout camp. He played most of last season with Omaha, batting .233 in 78 games.
Hochevar is out for the season following Tommy John surgery.
Opening Day roster
Pitchers (11) -- Francisley Bueno, Bruce Chen, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Wade Davis, Jeremy Guthrie, Kelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, James Shields, Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura.
Catchers (2) -- Hayes, Perez.
Infielders (7) -- Billy Butler, Ciriaco, Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Infante, Mike Moustakas, Danny Valencia.
Outfielders (5) -- Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Gordon, Justin Maxwell.
Disabled list (2) -- Coleman, Hochevar.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.