SURPRISE, Ariz. —Jeff Francis feels good and looks good, which is all good (of course) as the Royals work through these early days of spring training.
It also offers no guarantee about his suspect left shoulder.
"At this time last year, I had no problems either," Francis said. "It was a matter of the innings totaling up on me. It was the middle of the summer before my shoulder sort of flared up."
So, sure, there are questions. Francis, 30, is two years (to the day) removed from surgery that derailed a promising career in Colorado. If not for those questions, he wouldn't be here.
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Francis was a 17-game winner in 2007 when the Rockies reached the World Series, and it's anybody's guess whether he can recapture that form in his first season with the Royals after signing with the club as a free agent in January.
"In a lot of ways," he said, "(the surgery) seems like it was just yesterday. In other ways, it seems like it was a long time ago. It's hard not to think about it because it's an everyday thing.
"I'm just trying to maintain health and strength. It'll probably be that way the rest of my career, I would imagine. My approach is to try to keep up with it through a lot of maintenance and make myself more durable."
The initial returns are promising; everything, really, Francis and the Royals could hope for.
"He looks like he did when I had him in (2004 in) Triple-A," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "There's no hold-back with him right now. He looks 100 percent, and this guy can pitch.
"He had a whole year, and about 110 innings, of coming back from the injury. Commandwise, he's like Zack and Jack (Greinke and Soria). He can put it where he wants to put it — and that's a sign of health when you see a guy do that for a whole pen."
A Francis in preinjury form would be an undeniable boost to a rotation clouded with questions. He won 44 games for the Rockies during 2005-07 before his shoulder balked.
"He was a command pitcher with good stuff," said manager Ned Yost, who saw plenty of Francis while managing the Brewers during 2003-08. "He was mid-90s with his fastball. Very good change-up. He kept the ball down. He moved the ball in and out. He was really tough to hit."
So far — and, yes, it's early — Yost (like McClure) sees the same guy.
"He looks great because he commands his pitches," Yost said. "He's keeping the ball down and changing speeds while working both sides of the plate. He'll be at 91 (mph) now, but his command is excellent. This kid is a pitcher."
Note the hopeful present tense.
"I had such a good start to my career," Francis said, "and we had a lot of success as a team. Had I been just overloaded (in those early years)? I don't know. I didn't feel tired (in 2008). I just wasn't sharp. I wasn't effective.
"I was battling shoulder pain, but it was never enough to really keep me from going out there to pitch. That was probably the low point, the end of that year when they shut me down. I spent the winter trying to get strong and tried to come back for spring training.
"And I just couldn't do it."
Francis didn't pitch in 2009 and endured the sort of roller-coaster inconsistency last year that is common among pitchers recovering from major arm injuries. He finished 4-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 20 games.
"There are times when I feel stronger than I ever have," he said. "It almost alternated last year. There were days when I felt like I'd never throw again, and there were days when I felt like there had never been anything wrong."
Tendinitis flared in his shoulder as the season wound into August, which forced him to the disabled list for nearly a month. He struggled in four late-season appearances after returning to active duty.
"That's how it goes when you take a year off," Francis said. "Going into this winter, I tried to do things to help me be more durable. So far, I haven't had any setbacks. I'm strong. I like the way I'm feeling on the mound. I'm excited."
Not just for himself, either.
Francis sees similarities between his new club and the Colorado teams that emerged in recent years as a consistent postseason participant. Those Rockies did what these Royals are hoping to do: build from within and reap the benefit of a strong farm system.
"I still get chills thinking about (the Rockies' run to the 2007 Series)," he said. "Things came together at the right time. We did enough to stay in it, and we got hot at the right time.
"When I look around here, I see a lot of the same things. I see a lot of guys who like to work hard, No. 1. I've been really impressed with what I've seen in the weight room after workouts. Guys are just working their tails off.
"That's something you can't really teach. You can want your players to do it, but they're in there. It's impressive. It's the whole group of them coming up. This has all of the makings of a solid team."