KC Royals designated hitter/outfielder Jorge Soler is battling an oblique issue. Playing him the rest of this season may not be worth the risk.
Late Sunday afternoon, the KC Royals left Kauffman Stadium losers of six straight games and eight of their last 10. The White Sox broke open a close game with three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings and won 8-2 to sweep the clubs’ four day series.
With the season series against Chicago now thankfully over—the Sox beat KC nine times out of 10—the Royals open their final three games with the Indians tonight in Cleveland. While the Tribe and Chicago are tied for the American League Central Division lead, the Royals have settled into last place, 5.5 games behind fourth place Detroit and 7.5 distant games out of the Wild Card race with just 19 games to play. At 14-27, KC would have to go 16-3 just to finish .500.
Three weeks ago, though, things were different. The Royals were 9-13, five games out of first and just four out of the Wild Card, and postseason play was a realistic goal. Since then, the club is 5-14; this short season is now too short for these Royals.
That three-week span is important for another reason—Jorge Soler, the team’s primary designated hitter and occasional right fielder, has, as reported Sunday by The Athletic’s KC beat writer Alec Lewis, been battling an oblique issue during that span:
The oblique problem forced Soler to leave games twice last week and he missed two other contests.
Soler, who set the Royals’ single season home run record last year with a league leading 48, is no stranger to oblique problems—one cost him nearly a month of the 2017 season.
But that lost time came at the beginning of the season when ample time remained for Soler to rest, heal, and work back into top playing shape. This latest injury nags Soler with 19 games left in what will end, standings-wise, in an empty season, and probably explains why he hit .222 in the three weeks Moore says he’s been hurt, why he’s hitting .136 in his last seven games, and part of why his .235 season average is 30 points below last season’s final number.
Even cursory review of major league Injury Lists will prove oblique injuries frequently strike baseball players. The problem can be especially acute for hitters who, like Soler, rely on core strength to propel baseballs long distances; recovery and rehabilitation periods can be lengthy because getting back in the swing of things necessarily involves swinging, all points made a few years ago by Lindsay Berra in her fine overview of oblique injuries for mlb.com.
So, does it behoove the Royals to play Soler? Although the precise scope of his injury didn’t appear to be publicly known Sunday night (and Soler wasn’t on the Injured List), what is known is that he’s hurt and, barring a torrid, dominating stretch run, the club isn’t going anywhere until at least next year. There seems to be more risk than reward involved, especially because Soler could aggravate the injury (oblique problems sometimes require surgery) and the odds of the KC Royals playing in October are infinitesimal. (Sunday, ESPN.com gave them a 0.1 percent chance).
Perhaps, then, the Royals should shut down Jorge Soler. The time for this club to take chances has passed; with not much of the season left, risking further, and potentially serious, injury to their most powerful hitter makes no sense. Caution seems the better and wiser path, unless the Royals’ medical staff believes the injury is so slight that it doesn’t matter. But if that were the case, Soler wouldn’t be leaving games early, like he did Wednesday and Saturday, or missing them like he did Thursday and Sunday.
The Royals aren’t very good at this point and will be less so without Soler in the lineup. But there is nothing to be gained now by playing him. He should probably take the rest of the season off.
Losing Jorge Soler is never good for the KC Royals, but because he’s hurting this late in the season, it may be the best thing for him and the Royals. Better safe than sorry.