Kansas City Royals

Soria's spring off to pain-free start

SURPRISE, Ariz. —Another entry Saturday in the Kansas City Royals' so far/so good checklist: Closer Joakim Soria is throwing free and easy and showing no signs of the shoulder soreness that plagued him last season on occasion.

"I've tried not to badger him," manager Trey Hillman said, "but I've asked him probably three times how his body feels without getting specific about the shoulder. He says he feels very good.

"His command has been very good. His mechanics have been real smooth."

Soria, 25, missed nearly a month last season but still finished with 30 saves in 33 opportunities while compiling a 2.21 ERA in 47 appearances. He also had five saves of two innings or more while no other reliever in either league had more than two.

"I don't want to be in that position (again)," Hillman said. "I'm hopeful that we've got guys who can step up that we're comfortable with (in the seventh and eighth innings).

"We've discussed that in-depth. A four-out save is different from a six-out save. You might still see the four-out (save). I'd like to stay away from the six-out (save)."

No strings attached — Three former White Sox are among the "green-light" candidates this spring in terms of stealing bases: Scott Podsednik, Chris Getz and Brian Anderson.

"I'm going to cut them loose once the games start," Hillman said, "as long as their lower half is feeling OK. I'm going to get a read on that with the activity that we see (Tuesday and Wednesday) in the intrasquad games.

"I won't green-light guys for those two days."

Podsednik has 226 steals in nine career seasons, including 30 in 43 attempts last season for Chicago. He led the National League with 70 for Milwaukee in 2004.

Getz stole 25 bases in 27 attempts last season as a rookie for the White Sox. Anderson has yet to succeed in turning his speed into stolen bases; he is 13 for 27 in his big-league career.

"I'd like to see Chris Getz be free to run at least in spring training," Hillman said, "to show me how intelligent he is. I'd also like to see Brian Anderson (run to) see what his instincts are."

Fan Fest threatened — A forecast of heavy showers threatens today's plans for the annual Fan Fest at Surprise Stadium. The Royals and Rangers each work out for one hour at the main stadium as part of the program, which offers free admission.

The two teams also supply three players each to participate in a Home Run Derby. The Royals are sending Ernesto Mejia, Mike Moustakas and Scott Thorman, which continues their tradition of using players not on their 40-man roster to participate.

Mejia, 24, missed much of last season because of injures but led the Class-A Carolina League with 21 homers in 2008. He also had 14 homers this off-season in leading the Venezuelan Winter League.

Moustakas, 21, was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and led the Class A Midwest League with 22 homers in 2008. He had 16 homers last season for Wilmington in the Carolina League.

Thorman, 28, had 20 homers last year in Triple-A, including 19 for Omaha in 97 games.

The Rangers also plan to send three minor-league invites: Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland and Chad Tracy.

Happy Hochevar — Tennessee alum Luke Hochevar sported a big grin when his Volunteers claimed another major upset Saturday by beating No. 2 Kentucky 74-65 in Knoxville, Tenn.

Hochevar was already enjoying the Vols' 76-68 victory over top-ranked Kansas on Jan. 10 because of the many Jayhawks fans throughout the Royals' clubhouse.

"We beat everybody," Hochevar crowed.

Word from Vegas — The over/under this year is 71 victories for the Royals, according to Bookmaker.com. That would be a six-game improvement over last year but matches three other teams for the lowest projected total.

The online bookmaking service touts Pittsburgh, San Diego and Toronto at 71 victories. The highest over/under, no surprise, is the New York Yankees at 94.5 victories, followed by Boston at 94. The highest in the National League is Philadelphia at 92.

The rest of the American League Central Division: Chicago 82, Cleveland 73, Detroit 81 and Minnesota 82.