Esky clutch after Orlando takes leadoff spot

Royals shortstop forces a 10th inning with his RBI single in 9th

Esky clutch after Orlando takes leadoff spot

KANSAS CITY -- For most of the last two years, Alcides Escobar has been a fixture atop the Royals' lineup -- starting 213 out of 273 regular-season games in 2015 and '16 in the leadoff role.

But in Tuesday night's 7-5 loss in 10 innings to the White Sox, there was a different face atop the lineup: Paulo Orlando. The effect was almost immediate, as the Royals pulled ahead, 1-0, in the first, posting just their seventh run in the first inning since July 17. But when they were down to their final out, it was Escobar who delivered an RBI single in the ninth, which forced extra innings.

"I turned to [bench coaches] Pedro [Grifol] and [Don Wakamatsu] and said this is a situation where Esky really excels," manager Ned Yost said. "Sure enough, he ends up getting a base hit and tying the game."

Before the game, Yost had talked about Escobar's propensity for clutch hitting. After the loss, his message was almost the same.

"You go back and look at his hits in the last couple weeks, the majority of them have all been clutch hits," Yost said.

As a leadoff hitter, Escobar struggled, especially in the first inning, where he hit just .228. However, as Yost mentioned, his late-game hitting has never been called into question. His average in the eighth inning or later rose to .337 (31-for-92) with his single in the ninth.

"I like those situations," Escobar said. "I like to feel that energy."

Orlando's lead-off double

But at the same time, moving Orlando up in the lineup certainly made sense statistically. Even after going 1-for-5 against the White Sox, Orlando is still hitting .331.

If the season ended Tuesday, Orlando wouldn't qualify for the league leaders in batting average -- the threshold is 3.1 plate appearances per game -- but if he averages exactly four plate appearances the rest of the regular season, he will qualify. Orlando's .331 average would put him second in the American League, behind only Houston's Jose Altuve, among qualified hitters.

"We've been thinking about it for a while," Yost said. "Paulo [has] been swinging the bat good, but we were waiting ... to get a little more offense out of the middle of our lineup."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.