KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If only Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson could jump into a time machine.
Dyson would go back to May 15 in Anaheim, Calif., and just ignore that towering home run ball from Mike Trout of the Angels.
But Dyson didn’t. He ran up the wall — somewhat Bo Jackson style — and tried to snag the ball, which was well out of his reach. And on his way down, Dyson somehow got his leg caught in a padding crease. He immediately went to the ground, writhing in pain.
Not long after, Dyson found himself on the disabled list, with a lengthy rehab in front of him.
What stung infinitely more than the pain was that before the injury, Dyson appeared on the verge of claiming the Royals’ center field job.
“If I could, I would turn that clock back,” Dyson says. “It was a dumb play and I was swinging the bat really well at that time when I got hurt.
“I was playing into that starting role at the plate. I was feeling really good at the plate. The ball was jumping off my bat. I thought I had good pitch selection. I had a lot of extra-base hits at the time.
“And then I went after that home run that I probably wasn’t going to get.”
Dyson has been through this kind of agony before. He was in line for a starting job last August but twisted his ankle getting out of the batter’s box in Baltimore. He had been 14 of his last 27 when he got hurt.
“I was swinging the bat so well then,” he says. “The ball looked like a beach ball to me. Then I got hurt ….”
And this season, with the since-released Jeff Francoeur slumping horribly at the time, Dyson was in position to win the job in center, thus pushing Lorenzo Cain to right field.
Dyson had started five games in the week leading up to May 15. In that span he had five hits, including two doubles, a triple and a home run. He also stole a base.
Asked if Dyson might still be starting in center field if not for the injury, manager Ned Yost thought for a moment, then said, “He might be. I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller.
“But he was playing well at the time. I wouldn’t classify that he was being groomed. But he was really coming on at that time, I thought. Really coming on.”
Dyson didn’t get back to Kansas City from his rehab until late June. And by then, David Lough had grabbed the right field position, and Cain was entrenched in center.
Dyson once again was relegated to a reserve role.
“I guess I’m kind of used to it,” he says. “It’s what I’ve been almost my whole career up here.
“But I’m hungry to start, for sure. And I’m not mad at anyone in the lineup just because they’re in there and I’m not. We all help each other. I help David when I can. When I see a pitcher he hasn’t seen, I try to let him know what that pitcher throws and what to look for. That’s what you got to do as a teammate.”
For now, Dyson bides his time, waiting for his next chance. He still has very respectable splits — .250/.310/.450.
That .450 slugging percentage, by the way, still leads the entire team.
“Yeah, that’s me, the big power hitter,” Dyson says, laughing. “It seems for a while there, every hit I was getting was for extra bases.”
Now, though, with Cain playing solid defensively in center and Lough (.296/.315./.441) being one of the few contributors on offense, Yost can’t seem to find playing time for Dyson, perhaps the fastest man in baseball.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge because David Lough has played so well and (Lorenzo) Cain has played so well,” Yost says. “But Dyson, he is still a weapon we can use every single day because even though he’s not starting, we can use him. We’ve got two guys (Sal Perez and Billy Butler) in our lineup that we can pinch-run for late in games.”
That speed remains Dyson’s biggest asset. He has swiped 13 of 15 bases, and it takes nothing short of a perfect throw to get him. He’s also the man who has in the past scored on a sacrifice fly to the shortstop.
“That’s the thing I can do,” Dyson says. “I know I can get in the other team’s heads with my speed.”
And eventually, Dyson believes another starting opportunity will present itself.
“It’s what I want to do, be that everyday guy,” he says. “But I understand right now why that isn’t the case. David is swinging a great bat. I don’t expect him to come out of the lineup.
“I know the manager is trying to squeeze me in the lineup. I don’t worry about it. It’s probably a tough decision for them at times. But you want to ride the hot bats when you can. I wouldn’t want to take anyone with a hot bat out of the lineup. So I can wait. Whatever is best for the team.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6gmail.com.