Whit Merrifield consecutive games played ends at 553
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Whit Merrifield consecutive games played ends at 553

May 09, 2023

Anne Rogers

KANSAS CITY -- The longest consecutive games-played streak in the Majors came to an end on Monday.

Whit Merrifield, dealing with a bone bruise and ligament swelling in his big toe, will not play on Monday for the first time since June 24, 2018 -- more than four years ago. His consecutive-games-played streak comes to an end at 553, a franchise record and the longest streak in the Majors since Miguel Tejada played in 1,152 straight games from June 2, 2000-June 21, 2007.

"It's unfortunate it had to happen this way," Merrifield said before Monday's doubleheader against the Tigers. "I’ve been -- lucky is a good word for it in some instances, but I’ve put myself in a good position to play every day physically, mentality-wise. I showed up ready to play no matter the circumstance, whether I was going good or bad. It's been a long run. I’m proud of it."

Merrifield exited Sunday's game in the fifth inning after running toward a ball hit in the infield in the fourth. He felt a "pop" in his big toe, then felt pain when he tried to put weight on it. After coming into the dugout, he quickly realized that it was going to affect his swing. X-rays after the game came back negative, but when he woke up Monday morning, it was still hard to put weight on the foot. It's recommended he wears a boot for the next week or two.

Merrifield has played through countless aches and pains during his streak. This time was different because of where the injury occurred and how he felt it would affect his play.

"If it was my left foot, it’d be a little different. I think I’d be able to manage it if it was my plant foot," Merrifield said. "But it's my load foot. In hitting, you want weight on your backside. Try pushing off your backside while you’ve got a big toe that's bothering you. I just don't see it being beneficial for anything that has to do with my swing. It's going to take away some bat speed, going to make me fall off and put me in a bad position. Frankly, could create some bad habits when I’m finally getting into good habits. I don't want to go into bad habits."

Merrifield appeared at six positions since the streak began on June 25, 2018, including first base, second base, all three outfield positions and designated hitter. He started both games of a doubleheader 11 times during his streak, including two this season. And since the streak began, Merrifield leads the Majors with 654 hits, 24 more than Tre Turner (630), who ranks second.

Merrifield, 32, has a .635 OPS this season, the lowest of his career, but is slashing .282/.353/.410 in his last 30 games. The Royals have been more open to trading the 32-year-old this year than in recent years, and how quickly he can return -- and how he plays -- will determine the market for that now.

"I mentioned this last year [when Merrifield broke the franchise record], it's just one of those things that I was aware of, but it wasn't a forced issue because he was able to help us win every single day," Kansas City manager Mike Matheny said. "The versatility plays into that, where we can put him in different spots. … It's been a great run for Whit. It's been impressive about how he's able to go about it."

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Merrifield was not placed on the injured list Monday, as the Royals continue to evaluate the injury before making any IL decisions, but infielder Maikel Garcia, a Double-A prospect who is already on the 40-man, was in the Royals' clubhouse as part of the taxi squad.

When Merrifield feels like the injury isn't going to affect his swing like it is now, he envisions a swift return.

"I’ve got to be able to push off my backside and spin, like you do on a swing," Merrifield said. "When I can do that with the pain where it's not hindering me or making me subconsciously come off my backside too early, I’ll be good and ready. … When I can do that, I can keep running and throwing and fielding. the swing is going to be the telltale."