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Royals notebook: Grudzielanek carried AL-leading average into Sunday’s game

MIAMI | Second baseman Mark Grudzielanek made a rare start Sunday in a day game after a night game. Then again, it’s hard to rest the league’s leading hitter when trying to win a series.

“I feel good and I’ve got to play,” he said. “Plus, I know we’re going to Toronto after Boston, and I’ll probably get a day off on that turf.”

Grudzielanek entered Sunday as the American League’s top hitter at .325 after going three for four in Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Marlins.

“We originally were going to give him a day off,” manager Trey Hillman said. “We actually had a lineup without Grud in it, but Gruddy sent me a text (early Sunday morning) that said, `Skip, I’m ready to go.’ I’m going to listen to Gruddy.”

Grudzielanek entered Sunday on a 15-for-33 binge over the last nine games, which boosted his average 45 points. He has never finished higher than sixth in a batting race in his 14-year career. That occurred in 1999, when he batted .326 for the Dodgers.

Hillman indicated Grudzielanek is likely to get one or two days off in the road trip’s remaining eight games, especially the four games next weekend on the artificial turf in Toronto.

Comparison shopping

Joakim Soria is the third closer not yet eligible for arbitration to sign a multi-year extension since Jan. 1. He agreed Saturday to a three-year extension for $8.75 with club options for three more years that could boost the deal’s value to $30.75 million if he remains a reliever.

Soria’s deal is a straight extension that doesn’t affect his 2008 salary of $426,500.

How does that compare?

The Rockies signed Manny Corpas to a four-year extension in late February for $8.025 million. That includes his $575,000 salary for this season. The Corpas deal also includes two club options that could boost its value to $22 million over five years.

The Pirates signed Matt Capps to a new two-year deal in early April for $3.05 million. He got $500,000 this season in addition to a $250,000 signing bonus and will make $2.3 million in 2009. The contract replaced a previous one-year deal for $435,500 signed less than a month earlier.

Soria entered the season with one full year of big-league service; Corpas with one year, 76 days; and Capps with two years and 17 days. Players generally need three years of service to become eligible for arbitration and must have six full years of service to become a free agent.

Buck expected back

Catcher John Buck is expected to rejoin the Royals in time for tonight’s series opener against Boston at Fenway Park. Buck missed all three games against the Marlins while on bereavement leave because of his wife’s early-term delivery of twins.

The Royals are likely to clear roster space for Buck by optioning catcher Matt Tupman back to Class AAA Omaha.

Gathright limited

Outfielder Joey Gathright, as he predicted, awoke Sunday with a sore left shoulder after it popped briefly out of joint Saturday in a collision with David DeJesus.

“Could I play?” Gathright said. “I would (if asked), but it would hurt.”

Hillman said Gathright was unlikely to play Sunday beyond a possible pinch-running role. DeJesus started in center field.

On to Boston

Monday marks the start of the Royals’ only visit of the regular season to Boston. Here are the projected pitching matchups for the four-game series at Fenway Park:

Monday: RHP Luke Hochevar, 3-2 with a 3.94 ERA, vs. Boston LHP John Lester, 2-2 and 3.95, at 6:05 p.m. Central time.

Tuesday: RHP Gil Meche, 3-5 and 5.98, vs. Boston RHP Justin Masterson, 0-0 and 1.50, at 6:05 p.m.

Wednesday: RHP Brett Tomko, 2-4 and 5.32, vs. Boston RHP Bartolo Colon, 0-0 and 0.00, at 6:05 p.m. Central time.

Thursday: RHP Brian Bannister, 4-5 and 4.29, vs. Boston RHP Daisuke Matzusaka, 7-0 and 2.15, at 12:35 p.m. Central time.

Minor details

Right-hander Carlos Rosa experienced a rough time Saturday night in his Class AAA debut when he yielded five runs and six hits to his first seven hitters in Omaha’s 11-4 loss at Albuquerque.

Rosa settled down at that point. He retired the final two hitters in the first inning and six of eight hitters over the next two innings before exiting. He was promoted to Omaha after going 4-2 with a 1.20 ERA in 45 innings over eight starts at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

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