September 27, 2022

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Assessing the Royals' options after Mondesi's torn ACL

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CHICAGO — The Royals suffered a tough, and unfortunately familiar, blow Thursday morning when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left ACL tear, president of baseball operations Dayton Moore announced.

Mondesi tore the ligament on Tuesday night when he broke from first base trying to steal. He pulled up and felt a pop, Moore said, and when Mondesi dove back to the bag on a pickoff attempt a few moments later, he stood up and walked off the field and into the tunnel. The Royals were hopeful they could avoid the worst after initial scans postgame, but an MRI taken offsite Wednesday revealed structural damage.

“Your heart sinks,” Moore said. “He continues to have these types of setbacks. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason — of course we didn’t get the chance to communicate the way we always do [because of the lockout], but by all accounts, he did everything he was asked to do. And came to Spring Training looking good and feeling good. It’s just unfortunate.”

Mondesi will return to Kansas City with the team Thursday evening and be evaluated over the weekend by team doctors before determining the next step and a timeline for recovery. Surgery is a possibility but has not been decided on yet, and typically ACL tears take around a year to heal, although the injury can be different for everyone.

Until Mondesi can get on the road to recovery, the Royals are hurting for their teammate. The 26-year-old has been limited for several years because of injury, with his only full season coming when he played in 59 of 60 games in the pandemic-shortened season. The most games he’s played in a regular season was 102 in ’19.

Mondesi missed a month in ’18 with right shoulder impingement syndrome, a month in ’19 with a groin strain and nearly two months later that year with left shoulder subluxation, which he had surgery on that offseason. Last season, Mondesi missed all but 35 games with two different oblique strains and a hamstring injury.

“We talked a lot yesterday, last night [and] this morning,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Just continuing to [encourage] him, continue to just love on him and let him know that this is a tough hand and not what any of us would want to see him have to go through again. … He just continues to have some things happen that are hard to explain.”

The Royals thought about creating a load management plan for Mondesi this offseason, thinking it could help him stay healthy. But the nature of his injuries, and the unpredictability of when and what will be injured, led the Royals to back off that plan in Spring Training. Plus, scheduled off-days and rainouts during the first month offered enough time for Mondesi to feel rested and healthy.

“You look at what the nature of what he was doing, we haven’t been on the field pregame [because of the cold weather], the exertion — you just got to play,” Moore said. “You can’t second guess that at all. You can’t second guess it. He’s been trying to manage some things differently.”

Mondesi is a dynamic shortstop when he’s on the field, already having made several jaw-dropping plays this season. All he wants to do is play, but injuries keep preventing it.

“You hate seeing a guy go through that, especially a guy who worked really hard and wants to be playing,” said Nicky Lopez outside of a somber clubhouse Thursday morning. “It’s just unfortunate. It’s just not fair.”

What happens without Mondesi on the field?

The Royals will slide Lopez over to shortstop after starting the year at second base. Lopez filled in for Mondesi all of last season and compiled a highlight-reel of Gold Glove caliber plays. Whit Merrifield will move up from right field to second base, where he was a finalist for the Gold Glove last season.

Bobby Witt Jr. will stay at third base. MLB’s No. 1-ranked prospect is a natural shortstop and can play the position long term, but he is their best option at the hot corner defensively, over Hunter Dozier and Emmanuel Rivera.

Depth, at least, won’t be lacking on the infield.

“It’s very important,” Lopez said. “I think that’s how the Royals envisioned it. We had three shortstops at one point in the infield, which is something you can’t take for granted because not a lot of teams have that option.”

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