SURPRISE, Ariz. —Who knows? Maybe veteran catcher Jason Kendall will be ready to return to the Royals' lineup by opening day.
Kendall is already months ahead of schedule after gaining clearance this week to test his repaired right shoulder in limited throwing and hitting programs.
"I wasn't supposed to start throwing until June," said Kendall, who underwent surgery Sept. 3 to repair complete tears in three of four tendons in his right rotator cuff. "I'll totally be smart about it. But if I can go, I'm going to go.
"If I can be ready for opening day, I'm going to play. Is that going to happen? I don't know. But in my mind, I'll be ready. I'm not going to be dumb about it. If I'm not there, then it will be shortly after that."
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Typical recovery time is eight-to-10 months for such injuries, although cases requiring severe repairs, as Kendall did, often take far longer.
Manager Ned Yost remains doubtful — but is no longer dismissive — at the prospect of Kendall returning by the March 31 opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium.
"I'm not going to put limits on him," Yost said, "but I'm not rushing him by any stretch of the imagination. If he moves along and we get all of the OKs and do it the way it's supposed to be done, step by step with the doctors and trainers, we'll let him move forward.
"But we'll never get ahead of ourselves. He's way above schedule, but we'll see how it plays out. We're not going to be stupid about it."
The official word from trainer Nick Kenney is Kendall is cleared for a "very light form-dependent" throwing program extending to 30-45 feet. Kendall can also take dry swings and hit balls from a tee.
Current plans call for Kendall's progress to be reevaluated in early March by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, the Dodgers' team physician, at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic in Los Angeles.
ElAttrache performed the surgery in September and cleared Kendall's return to limited on-field duties after Tuesday's follow-up examination.
"The doctor was very happy," Kendall said. "He said I'm way ahead of the game, and he was excited. I can start throwing a little bit. I can start throwing legally. Put it that way."
Kendall, 36, admits he tested his shoulder with some light tosses before getting clearance.
"It started with snowballs," he said, "and it turned into more. You get curious. I wanted to see where I was at. As soon as I could lift my arm, I started (testing it).
"It's not like I was throwing to second base or anything, but I was throwing a couple of balls against the wall."
Kendall is entering the concluding season of a two-year, $6 million contract signed as a free agent on Dec. 11, 2009. He is one of only five players to catch in more than 2,000 career games and harbors hopes of playing several more years.
The Royals did not pursue a veteran catcher in the off-season. They opted instead for a spring competition between Brayan Pen~a, Lucas May and Manny Pin~a while Kendall continued his recovery.
That competition continues because, even now, a mid-May return by Kendall seems a more-likely scenario. Even then, Yost said Kendall is likely to require more days off than previously throughout his career.
"The shoulder is all intact," Kendall argued, "and I just need to get some strength back. They asked me when I plan on being back. Well, I still plan on being back by opening day. Is that going to happen? I don't know.
"But I'm also not supposed to be where I am right now (in the recovery process), either."
Kendall suffered the injury July 17 against Oakland on a slide while stealing second base at Kauffman Stadium. He responded initially to a cortisone shot before aggravating the injury in early August on a check swing in Oakland.
He played through Aug. 30 and finished the season, his 15th in the big leagues, with a .256 average and .318 on-base percentage in 118 games.
"You could not tell from his performance or his production that he was hurting," Yost said. "There was no huge drop-off in anything that he did."
Kendall knew something was wrong after struggling last August while playing catch with his son Kuyper.
"Before that," he said, "I figured there was a little pain but, ahhh, two weeks off in the offseason, and it will be all right. I was playing catch with little guy with my left hand, and I was kind of throwing the ball all over the place because it was my left hand.
"And he said, 'Dad, throw it right.' I said, 'I am,' and he said, 'No, throw it with your right hand.' I told him, 'I can't, bud, it's a little sore.' He said, 'You do it at night.' I thought, 'Yeah, that's a good point.' "
The next day, Kendall asked to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam to diagnose the extent of the problem.
"If that hadn't happened with my son," he said, "I would have probably just been stubborn and not done anything. They did an (exam), and it was complete mashed potatoes.
"But it's fixed now, and I'm excited because it's probably going to be stronger now that it was before. I'm on the right path. In my mind, I'm going to be ready for opening day."