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Grudzielanek taking it one day at a time

Grudzielanek taking it one day at a time

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mark Grudzielanek didn't make the long bus ride through the saguaro cactus and desert and mountains for Tuesday's game in Tucson, Ariz.

Grudzielanek, after 13 big league seasons, is in no hurry. He stayed back at the Royals' camp to sort through his body parts and do some drills. He didn't play in any Cactus League games until Sunday and Monday.

"It's still the first week and stuff. I'm getting closer everyday. I'm still in no rush. I've still got a way to go. I'm hurting a little bit, some days more than others. I'm 37 years old, what are you going to do?" Grudzielanek said.

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What you do, if you're Grudzielanek, is acknowledge your age and the fact that you had two knee surgeries last year and that you know how long it takes to be ready. And he's almost always ready.

Take last spring. He had knee surgery and, against the odds, was in the starting lineup on Opening Day. Not only that, he had three hits and three RBIs as the Royals ran over the Red Sox and Curt Schilling, 7-1.

Then he went hitless in his next 18 at-bats and Grudzielanek admits that he might have rushed his return.

"Sure, I did. It's OK, though, it worked out," he said.

Yeah, but didn't he have surgery again on that left knee on June 15?

"Ask the doctor. It had nothing to do with it. All unrelated. I still played almost a full year, didn't I?" he said, feigning irritability.

Grudzielanek grinned, but he seriously prides himself on being in the lineup and, in fact, the second surgery cost him just 19 games. He was back on July 6, batted .332 in his last 64 games and raised his average from .267 to .302.

"Not bad, huh, for the way I felt?" he said.

He played 116 games, registered his fifth .300 season and was a pesky presence in the No. 2 lineup spot, excelling in the hit-and-run and moving runners over.

"I describe Grud has a super-professional hitter," hitting coach Mike Barnett said. "He's very consistent -- you look at his numbers and he's pretty much the same versus right-handed pitching (.288) and versus left-handed pitching (.292). He doesn't try to do too much. He tries to stay up the middle of the field or the other way. I love the way he makes adjustments."

At second base, Grudzielanek didn't repeat his American League Gold Glove season, but made just six errors. The knee problems might have cost him some range.

"Last year, no question coming through the knee surgery, who wouldn't? I've got to get my feet underneath me a little more this spring and once we come out of spring, we'll see how I feel but I don't think I'll lose a whole lot," he said.

The thing about Grudzielanek, of course, is that he's so astute at positioning against batters that he can compensate for any deficiencies.

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"Boy, he can really turn a double play," said infield coach Dave Owen. "He's got good body awareness, good feet, tremendous hands. He's solid there in the middle."

Grudzielanek is well known for his fearlessness in turning two at second base. Coming after him? No problem.

"That's just what you have to do. Sometimes I try to get out of there, sometimes I don't have a chance to get out of there," he said. "But I'm lucky, I have a strong enough arm that I can sit in there a little longer than usual. I like it. That's baseball -- them coming in on you like that and landing on them. It's fun and that's the way I play second."

Never a noisy rah-rah guy, Grudzielanek has assumed a quiet veteran leadership role with his younger teammates.

"I used to just kind of play by example and just kind of fit in and do my thing. But in the last few years here there's no question I've been in the process of leading them in the right way," he said. "It's just one of those things -- especially if they're good kids and just want to listen and learn, that's outstanding."

Just how long Grudzielanek will continue playing isn't certain. It depends, he said, on his health.

"I can see myself playing through this year and one more," he said. "After that, it's kind of a coin toss to see where I'm at with it."

Meantime, in the interest of preparing and protecting his body for the season's grind, he's taking Spring Training at a prudent pace.

"There are some days good, some days bad. Overall, I'm very happy with where I'm at right now. The knee's comfortable," he said.

"It's a process for me, one step at a time. Take it easy. You want to leave Spring Training healthy. You don't want to be beat down, you don't want to be sore, you want to be healthy."

Dick Kaegel 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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