Royals hope to get a boost from O'Hearn
The Kansas City Royals moved one step closer to the lineup they envisioned for opening day with the Monday return of first baseman Ryan O'Hearn.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound O'Hearn, a left-handed hitter who figures to share time at first base with right-handed hitting Ryan McBroom, returned from the injured list after having been sidelined by a COVID-19 infection in the middle of spring training 2.0. O'Hearn remained asymptomatic throughout his time in isolation.
The Royals activated him and optioned left-handed relief pitcher Richard Lovelady before Monday's game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
"Those 14 days or quarantine were no joke," O'Hearn said. "Thankfully, I didn't have any symptoms. ... If there is a positive side, I'm here on day four (of the season). I'm healthy and I'm ready to go."
O'Hearn made the opening day roster for the first time in 2019, but he struggled so much at the plate last season that he was sent down to Triple-A Omaha on June 14. At the time, he'd batted .188 with six home runs and RBI through 56 games.
He returned to the majors one year ago Monday (July 27) and stayed with the big club for the rest of the season, batting .204 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 49 games.
Manager Mike Matheny and general manager Dayton Moore both gave O'Hearn votes of confidence during the offseason, though Matheny had alluded to the possibility of a "soft platoon" at first base during the club's initial spring training camp in Arizona.
O'Hearn hit five home runs in 13 games (35 at-bats) and posted a slash line of .343/.395/.857 during Cactus League play. Of his 12 hits in Arizona, eight were for extra bases.
O'Hearn spent most of the past week working at the club's alternate training site, T-Bones Stadium in Kansas City, Kan., after receiving medical clearance to resume baseball activities. He said getting live at-bats and working with director of hitting performance/player development Alec Zumwalt was crucial for his timing after a two-week layoff.
"The last couple days were a lot better, getting to go to the alternate site, get ABs, kinda get locked in," O'Hearn said. "I worked with Alec Zumwalt a lot. I'm seeing the ball really well, having good ABs. That's what ultimately got me here."
The Royals' lineup is still missing a key middle-of-the-order hitter in right-hander Hunter Dozier, who had 26 home runs and 84 RBIs last season in a breakout campaign, but O'Hearn's return could provide a boost.
"It's a big part of our lineup, a big, powerful, left-handed bat," Royals leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield said. "He's a guy who is itching to prove himself in the big leagues, so we're excited to see him back and see what he can do out there."
O'Hearn went directly into the starting lineup and the No. 5 spot in the batting order behind catcher Salvador Perez Monday night.
"We've been looking forward to getting Ryan back, first of all making sure that he was healthy," Matheny said. "But I think we saw in spring what kind of player, what kind of at-bat and what kind of presence he can be in that lineup. Trying to get this machine of our offense going, putting another potentially really dangerous left-handed bat in that lineup is really important."