7/8/2014 7:30 P.M. ET
Aoki working to join crowded Royals outfield
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Right fielder Nori Aoki has started his rehab assignment with Double-A Northwest Arkansas -- he went 0-for-3 in his first game -- but when he returns, the Royals will face a roster crunch.
The Royals would have five outfielders with Jarrod Dyson and Raul Ibanez figuring as the backups to Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Aoki. Dyson has been valuable -- he's hitting .298 with 14 steals and providing terrific defense -- and Ibanez figures as an important veteran off the bench even though he was just 3-for-19 in his first five games.
"He's just now getting back in the swing of things," manager Ned Yost said of Ibanez. "I've watched him in batting practice. I mean, the guy hit 29 homers last year. He's got that quick-strike capability in his swing."
Carrying five outfielders would mean dropping a backup infielder of which there now are two -- Danny Valencia and Christian Colon. There's no urgency for a decision, however, because Aoki's rehab is likely to stretch through the All-Star break which ends on July 17.
"Until Nori comes back, we want to give [Ibanez] the opportunity to get himself going," Yost said. "Once Nori comes back, [Ibanez] fits a spot. He's a power bat off the bench, he can spell some guys in the outfield. He can play some first."
And when roster crunch time arrives?
"That's a tough decision. I don't know, to be honest with you," Yost said.
Royals ink lefty Saunders to Minor League deal
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just in case, the Royals have signed left-handed pitcher Joe Saunders to a Minor League contract. Just in case Saunders still has something left in his tank and just in case there's a need for a starting pitcher in Kansas City.
Saunders, 33, was assigned to Triple-A Omaha after being released by Texas. He was 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA in eight starts for the Rangers this year.
"He's a guy that we signed for depth," manager Ned Yost said. "He's a guy that's had success in the big leagues. ... It's another experienced arm."
Saunders was an American League All-Star for the Angels in 2008, when he finished 17-7. He has a career record of 89-86 record with 229 Major League starts for the Angels, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Mariners and Rangers.
One of his most memorable victories came on May 9, 2009, when he and the Royals' Zack Greinke had a complete-game duel at Anaheim. Saunders won the game for the Angels, 1-0, with a five-hitter. Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award that year.
The Royals' pitching rotation has been solid this season and there's no need for a starting pitcher.
"How quick does that change?" Yost said. "So, you've got make sure you've got enough experienced arms down there."
The Royals also have former big league starter Clayton Mortensen at Omaha with a 4-0 record and 1.64 ERA.
Downs providing quality relief in Royals' 'pen
ST. PETERSBURG -- Scott Downs has fit well in the Royals' bullpen.
Signed primarily to be a left-handed situational pitcher, he worked one scoreless inning in each of his first two games. Right-handed hitters were 1-for-4, while lefties 0-for-3. So, he retired six of seven hitters.
"Should have been six of six because Moose normally makes that play," manager Ned Yost said.
The reference was to a single by the Rays' Ben Zobrist that got past third baseman Mike Moustakas in Monday's 6-0 win.
Downs signed 10 days after being released by the White Sox.
"I've had a clear head. Those 10 days can kind of open your eyes a little bit," Downs said before Tuesday's game. "So now when I'm going into pitch, the focus is on that moment. And that's it. I'm having fun so far ever since I've been here."
The Royals' Raul Ibanez, a left-handed batter, was just 3-for-17 against Downs over the years.
"He's got a great sinking fastball and he's got a big, slurvy breaking ball, and he comes right at you," Ibanez said. "He's as tough a lefty as there is."
Ibanez isn't the only Royals hitter to have trouble with Downs. Eric Hosmer was just 2-for-11 and Alex Gordon 2-for-10 against him.
"I am glad we're on the same team," Ibanez said.
Coone selected as Royals' All-Star Teacher
ST. PETERSBURG -- Megan Coone of Independence, Mo., has been named an "All-Star Teacher" and will represent the Royals at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis next week.
She'll be among 30 teachers celebrated for making an impact on the lives of their students and communities, all selected by fans, in a program for Major League Baseball, Target and People magazine.
Coone began her teaching career at Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School in Independence, a low-income school where she teaches kindergarten.
Active in the district, Coone serves on the Sunshine Committee, which collects gifts and flowers for families and staff experiencing difficulty, and the Social Studies Committee, which seeks new and fun ways to help kids learn. She is known for the love and support she shows her students, many of whom live in shelters and face other hardships, outside of the classroom.
The 30 teachers representing each MLB club will be recognized prior to the 85th Midsummer Classic on Tuesday, July 15 at Target Field.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.