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Health issues won't deter Guerrero

Health issues won't deter Guerrero

TUCSON, Ariz. -- When the Angels talk about getting a leg up on the competition, they could be referring to the right one attached to seven-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero's imposing frame.

In an interview on Saturday at the club's facility in Tempe, Ariz., with broadcaster Jose Mota serving as his translator, Guerrero disclosed that when he appears to be laboring on troublesome knees, it's not necessarily the case.

"I have a family history where there is one leg proven that is longer than the other," Guerrero said, adding that it's the right one in his case. "So when I hobble, it's not my knee. My mom's side of the family, we have a leg longer than the other. So it looks like I'm hobbling, but I'm not. But my knee is fine."

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Guerrero, 31, had surgery on the right knee while he was with the Montreal Expos. Angels medical director Dr. Lewis Yocum examined both knees after another banner 2006 season by the right fielder yielded a .329 average, 33 homers, 116 RBIs and a .552 slugging average.

Tendinitis was found in the left knee, and Yocum was supportive of arthroscopic surgery on the right one.

"It was not a case," Guerrero said, "where he said, 'You have to have it.' It was a case where he recommended doing a little cleaning. But the way I felt after the season, I decided not to. It felt pretty good. Both [knees] felt good, so really there's not much to say about it."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been impressed with Guerrero's mobility and energy on the practice field, where he has been tuning up his defense after committing 11 errors with a substandard .959 fielding percentage in '06.

"Vlad feels very strong, and I think the questions about his knee have been answered and the challenge is going to be to keep him where he needs to be," Scioscia said. "We're going to monitor him very closely. But you look at the way he's moving, just in drills, he really looks good."

Guerrero refused to offer any excuses for his defensive mishaps, but Scioscia could see Vlad wasn't Vlad with the glove last season.

"His knees got to a point last year it certainly affected his defense -- and we want to keep that element," Scioscia said. "Affected everything from where his range was to feeling when you're running for a ball, you have to change your gait to protect areas that are sore, and the ball would jump on him at times. He was battling out there."

Scioscia said he'd like to have Guerrero in the heart of the lineup at least 150 games and feels that he can average about an RBI a game if the table is set properly and bountifully in front of him.

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Having spent seven seasons on Montreal's artificial turf, his knees absorbed a fierce pounding. Guerrero savors playing on Anaheim's natural surface and said he would not come "knocking on [the manager's] door to DH."

Guerrero also refused to second guess management over not acquiring a big name to hit behind him, maintaining that "we have big bats. We have Garret [Anderson] and Juan [Rivera] is going to come back, Shea Hillenbrand.

"The main thing is that all around the style that Mike talks about is not depending on one bat, and I feel very good about the guys that I see here. Gary Matthews Jr. is going to be a very helpful ballplayer."

Guerrero said he has recovered fully from a hand injury he suffered while sliding headfirst in a winter-ball game before the 2005 season, and he's also had a year to grieve over the loss of three cousins who died in an auto accident last March.

"Now that my family's taken care of, that's what's important to me," Guerrero said. "The tragedy affected me mostly in Spring Training, but beyond that, I know I have a job to do."

That job entails driving in bundles of runs as one of the game's most feared weapons and saving a few with his glove. Guerrero's confident that his club has the goods to go all the way.

"With the team we have here, yes," Guerrero said, "but it's going to take the hitting, overall defense and the pitching. But yes, winning the World Series is what we want to do, what we intend to do."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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