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Royals’ Cain has simple goal for 2013: Stay healthy

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, at 3:04 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, April 1, 2013, at 10:55 a.m.

— There were times last year when Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain, like most everyone else, wondered why he couldn’t stay healthy.

“It really ran through my head that I was injury-prone,” he admitted. “This is what I’ve worked hard for all of my life – to get to the big leagues. Now, I was finally here, and I kept getting injured.”

And now it’s starting again.

Cain is battling a muscle strain between the knuckles on his right hand that surfaced during one-handed drills recently in the batting cages. All indications suggest it’s a minor ailment; he should be back to taking part in full workouts by the end of the week.

Even so…he’s battling to control his frustration.

“Especially after what I went through last year,” he said, “I definitely didn’t want to deal with this right now. I was starting to feel good swinging. But it’s only a few days, and it’s best that it’s a few days now than later on. I’ve got time. It’s still early.”

His message to all those wondering if he’s injury prone:

“Don’t worry, I’ll be ready,” Cain said. “I know what people are thinking, but I just need to take a few days off from swinging just to get the soreness out of there. I should start back up in two or three days. I’ll be back to normal.”

Normal as in healthy; not normal as in what Cain endured last season, when he lasted just five games before suffering a strained left groin after slamming into the wall April 10 in Oakland after making a spectacular catch that helped preserve a 3-0 victory.

It got worse: A few weeks later, while on a rehab assignment in the minors, he suffered a torn left hip flexor – a far more serious injury.

When Cain returned to active duty in mid-July, he did so at less than 100 percent – his speed, in particular, wasn’t what it had been. He still showed some tantalizing pop with seven homers and 31 RBIs while batting .266 in 61 games before another injury struck.

A strained right hamstring, suffered Sept. 13, ended his season.

“It took me a while to get over all of that,” Cain said. “I had a lot of injuries. A lot. But at the same time, I worked hard this offseason, and I’ve been feeling good. I’ve got to say it’s going to be a bounce-back year for me. That’s what I’m looking for.

“I’ve got to stay on the field…any way possible.”

Cain suffered a hamstring injury and a torn knee ligament in 2009 while in the Milwaukee system but, until last season, had few injury concerns throughout his eight-year professional career.

“Nothing like last year,” he said. “Last year was just crazy.”

The need for a bounce-back season by Cain tends to get overlooked in listing the steps necessary for the Royals to jump-start an attack that scored fewer runs last year than all but two American League teams.

Not by everyone, though.

“We’ve got to keep the guy in center on the field,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “Cain is big because if you throw a left-handed pitcher against us, we’ve got Moose, Hos and Gordon.”

Those three – Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon – are all left-handed hitters manning run-production corner positions. The Royals have a right-handed-hitter in DH Billy Butler and in catcher Salvy Perez.

“We need another right-handed bat,” Moore said, “to help balance our lineup.”

That production could come from right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who slumped badly last season, but the Royals optimistically view Cain, at 26, as a long-term answer in center.

“I feel if I’m healthy and stay on the field,” Cain said, “and if I can just get my at-bats in, I can be consistent throughout the year and put up good numbers. I’m definitely confident in my abilities to play the game. My biggest focus is just staying healthy.”

That health, assuming his hand injury is minor, will hinge largely on Cain’s legs; his ability to run down drives deep into the gaps – particularly at Kauffman Stadium. Some scouts once likened his defensive skills to those of a young Torii Hunter.

Praise for a center fielder’s defense doesn’t come much higher.

“He looks better now than I remember him in (2011) in Triple-A,” outfield coach Rusty Kuntz said. “His feet look quicker. His legs are in good shape, and his routes are tighter. I think it’s because of how good he feels.”

Cain feels the same way.

“My legs are very close to where I want to be,” he declared. “They’re pretty darn good. I must admit, they’re pretty darn good. I’m feeling comfortable in my legs, but I’m going to try to ease into it. Not push myself any harder than I need to.

“I just want to make sure I’m prepared and ready to go by the end of spring training.”

And beyond.

To reach Bob Dutton, send email to bdutton@kcstar.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.

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