Vaccine rule costs Royals key players for trip to Toronto

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The Kansas City Royals will be without 10 players when they visit the Toronto Blue Jays, who are under new interim manager John Schneider, for a four-game series that starts Thursday night.

Schneider was promoted from bench coach to interim manager after manager Charlie Montoyo was fired. Montoyo had been on the job since 2019.

“I truly wanted this to work with Charlie and wasn’t able to make that happen,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. “I’m extremely disappointed with where we are. I think we are better than how we’ve played.”

Atkins accepted his share of the responsibility for the performance in a season in which there were high expectations. The Blue Jays won 91 games last season and missed reaching the playoffs by one game.

“This is a collective setback, and ultimately that starts with me,” Atkins said. “I’m the one who needs to be most accountable for that.”

Schneider said, “I have all of the respect in the world for Charlie Montoyo as a baseball coach, manager and as a human being. This is bittersweet. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and I’m excited to be able to do this with an organization I’ve known for over 20 years.”

The Blue Jays won their first game under Schneider, 8-2 on Wednesday night, completing a two-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. Teoscar Hernandez hit a pair of two-run homers and Ross Stripling allowed two runs, both unearned, in seven innings.

The Royals, who will be short the 10 players who do not meet Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rules, also are coming off a win. They defeated the visiting Detroit Tigers 5-2 on to take three of four in the series.

Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman (6-6, 2.86 ERA) is scheduled to return to the mound on Thursday. It will be his first outing since July 2, when he sustained a bruised right ankle on a comebacker. He has faced Kansas City just once in his career, taking a loss in 2017 after yielding five runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings.

The Royals had not announced who would be on the mound Thursday for their makeshift roster.

Outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel, first baseman Hunter Dozier, second baseman Whit Merrifield, catchers MJ Melendez and Cam Gallagher and pitchers Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Dylan Coleman will be placed on the restricted list, according to manager Mike Matheny.

While Merrifield and Taylor are injured and were not in the lineup on Wednesday, they had not been placed on the injured list.

The Royals will fill those vacancies with minor league players, some of whom are not on the 40-man roster.

“We’re really looking forward to providing an opportunity for some of our players that we want to continue to look at and that we think are a big part of our future anyway,” said Dayton Moore, the Royals’ president of baseball operations. “And so we’re looking at this as a really important opportunity for them and us.”

With both catchers not making the trip, the Royals could use Freddy Fermin, who has appeared in 40 games for Triple-A Omaha. He could be joined by Sebastian Rivero, the catcher at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, who is on the 40-man roster. Rivero went 0-for-7 in three games for Kansas City earlier this year.


Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz remains upbeat as rehab from broken left ankle nears midway point

oneil cruz rehab
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PITTSBURGH — Oneil Cruz slowly made his way on crutches across the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse on Saturday toward a locker replete with a massive walking boot that the towering shortstop still uses to protect the left ankle he broke during an awkward slide home in early April.

The days when he’ll need to rely on the crutches are numbered. Ditto for the walking boot. The 24-year-old’s recovery remains on track, meaning he could return sometime late this summer barring any setbacks.

Given the way Cruz’s left leg rolled up underneath him as he collided with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala in the sixth inning of what became a 1-0 victory, Cruz will take it. He had surgery the next day and the team optimistically said it expected him to miss four months, a timeline it has not deviated from as his rehab reaches the halfway point.

“You never want to get hurt, obviously, but that’s part of the game and it happens to me,” Cruz said through a translator. “I’m just going to take it the way it is and get better as soon as possible.”

The Pirates have found a way to remain in contention in the NL Central even without their leadoff hitter and one of the more physically intriguing young players in the majors, one prone to testing the limits of StatCast. Pittsburgh entered play on Saturday at 29-27, a half-game back of Milwaukee for first place in a division where no one has been able to run away and hide.

The club has used a handful of players at short to fill in for Cruz, from Rodolfo Castro to Tucupita Marcano to Ji Hwan Bae to Chris Owings. None of them possess Cruz’s unique mix of size, power and speed. Yet they’ve been solid enough to help soften what could have been a devastating early blow to a club that is trying to climb back into relevance following consecutive 100-loss seasons.

Cruz has leaned on his wife and his children to help ease the mental sting of the first major injury of his still-young career. Watching longtime teammates Castro and Marcano – who came up through the minors with Cruz – have some level of success has helped. The duo is hitting a combined .264 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs.

“Every time I see them doing well, it makes me happy,” Cruz said.

Still, they understand they are placeholders for Cruz, who was poised to take a significant step forward following a tantalizing rookie season in which both highlights that quickly went viral on social media – and strikeouts – were plentiful. He worked seven walks in his nine games of the season, showing the kind of patience at the plate that was difficult to come by in 2022.

Cruz believes he is poised to come back stronger than he was when he went down, and the Pirates have been adamant that the hope is he returns this season no matter where the team is in the standings whenever he comes off the 60-day injured list.

While he’s eager to get back he’s also not trying to force things, saying several times he will stick to the recommendations of the medical staff. He has remained engaged, not missing a game of Pittsburgh’s somewhat uneven – the Pirates started on a 20-8 tear followed by an 8-18 skid through May – but overall promising start.

There are also no concerns – at least at this point – about any sort of lingering memories of the slide that derailed his season haunting him during his rehab.

“I should be good when I get out there because when I go out there I understand I’m not going to hesitate,” Cruz said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Cruz’s appearance at PNC on Saturday coincided with the team giving out thousands of bobbleheads in his likeness.

Asked if the trinkets bear at least a passing resemblance to him, Cruz laughed.

“They did real good,” he joked. “Ugly, like me.”