Fresh, familiar faces at Royals camp

Fresh faces blend with familiar at Royals camp

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The groundwork for ending a three-year rut continued Friday inside a room near the Royals clubhouse at Surprise Stadium.

Manager Buddy Bell, his coaching staff and the Minor League coaches went over a Spring Training game plan geared to have the team regular-season ready for the season opener on April 2 against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium.

"I'm excited, but of course everybody is excited at this time of year," Bell said. "We made some progress from the middle of last year on, and we hope it continues. It's a long process and you have to remember it is a long process, but we're kind of impatient, by nature, anyway, so it's hard to do at times."

This Royals camp, the fifth held in Surprise after 34 in Florida, really gets going at 9 a.m. MT on Saturday when pitchers, catchers and position players coming off injury work out for the first time.

As of Friday afternoon, right-handers Leo Nunez and Joel Peralta were the only pitchers that hadn't checked in. But both reportedly were en route to Arizona from the Dominican Republic, meaning all 31 hurlers invited to camp will be here for Saturday's opening bell.

Besides the usual pitchers' fielding practice (PFP), half of the available pitchers will throw bullpen sessions on Saturday and the remainder will work on Sunday.

For the next six weeks, pitchers will be competing for five spots in the rotation and seven in the bullpen.

New Royals Gil Meche and Brian Bannister have been getting the kinks out under the Arizona sun for several days now. Those newcomers are among the reasons the organization believes consecutive 100-loss seasons will end at three.

"There is a nice chemistry about the way we are doing things and it's a good feel," Bell said. "So we all should be excited about [Spring Training]."

This is a significant camp for Dayton Moore -- his first as a Major League general manager after taking over with the Royals last June. He signed Meche, a free agent, to a five-year, $55 million contract, and acquired Bannister from the Mets in a December trade.

And Bell, sidetracked by throat surgery at the end of last season, returns full of vim, vigor and (he hopes) victories.

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"I'm always excited about Spring Training," Moore said. "I'm looking forward to it."

And he should be, because since taking over, Moore has revamped the pitching staff, tweaked the lineup and staffed the front office with many new folks.

Many new faces will be seen Saturday as the pitching staff assembles. There's also a new catcher, Jason LaRue, who joins incumbent John Buck. The other position players are to report next Wednesday, with the first full-squad workout the following day.

Several position players, including team captain Mike Sweeney, have been invited to arrive early because of recent injuries. From the starting lineup, Sweeney missed time with back problems, Mark Teahen had shoulder surgery, and Reggie Sanders and Ryan Shealy had knee surgery.

Although Shealy's surgery wasn't widely known, Moore said that the first baseman had some cleanup work done on a knee after the season.

"It was a very minor deal," Moore said.

Sweeney, who planned to report early, knows too well the importance of having players healthy to move up in the standings.

"We need all of our horses to do it," Sweeney said.

The Royals eventually will have 59 players in their Major League camp, and are scheduled to play their first Cactus League game at 1:05 p.m. on Thursday, March 1, against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe, Ariz. The first game at Surprise is at 1:05 p.m. on Friday, March 2, against the Texas Rangers, who share the complex with the Royals.

Jim Street is a reporter for Dick Kaegel, MLB reporter, contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.