CHICAGO — Kyle Isbel didn’t take long to announce his return to the Royals on Thursday afternoon, knocking a two-run single in the 10th inning and sending Kansas City to a 5-2 series finale victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
And it’s safe to say the Royals needed this win. Not just because of the start Brad Keller delivered, facing one over the minimum in seven innings, limiting Chicago to one run on three hits, but also because of the pregame news, when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was placed on the 10-day injured list with A left ACL tear, ruling the 26-year-old shortstop out for an undetermined, yet significant, amount of time.
“Obviously, the news rattled 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 like when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the league.
“For us to go out there and pull out a win, you see him in the clubhouse smiling. … It’s a morale boost.”
Mondesi tore the ligament on Tuesday night when he broke from first base trying to steal. He pulled up and felt a pop, president of baseball operations Dayton 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.
As the Royals waited to hear the timetable for Mondesi’s recovery, the infield shifted around in his absence.
Nicky Lopez will slide over to a shortstop after starting the year at second base, while Whit Merrifield will move up from right field to second base, where he was a finalist for the Gold Glove last season.
Lopez showed Thursday that he’ll pick up where he left off last season, making a few plays that could appear on his highlight reel. He helped turn a quick double play in the fourth inning, when Gavin Sheets grounded sharply to first baseman Carlos Santana. Santana stepped on first and threw over to second, where Lopez fielded the one-hopper through Andrew Vaughn’s legs and applied the tag.
Meanwhile, Bobby Witt Jr. will remain 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.
The Royals made the infield shift quickly when Mondesi exited Tuesday’s game. What won’t come as quickly is getting over another injury, something Mondesi has had to deal with often in his seven-year career.
“We talked a lot yesterday, last night, this morning,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Just continuing to [encourage] him, continue to 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 26-year-old has been limited for several years, 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.
The club hoped 2022 would be different for the switch-hitter who makes the spectacular look 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 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.”
It’s reasonable to wonder what the future is for Mondesi, who is making $3 million this season. It’s been seven years since his debut during the 2015 World Series, but the club has only seen flashes of his brilliant upside.
Yet Mondesi is only 26 years old and still under club control until 2023. The Royals rave about his passion and desire to play, which makes the seemingly never-ending injuries all the more painful.
Questions about how the Royals will confront Mondesi’s future hover. For now, the team has thrown its full support behind him.
“Our locker room took a hit,” Lopez said. “… I can speak for a lot of people on the team. Our heart breaks for him.”