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Icy morning, genuine optimism greet Royals

Icy morning, genuine optimism greet Royals play video for Icy morning, genuine optimism greet Royals

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The first day of Spring Training for the Kansas City Royals began with players and staff scraping ice off their windshields. Brrrr.

"I've never been here where they've had ice on the window," manager Ned Yost said. "I started backing out, thinking it was just water, then I hit the wipers and it was ice -- holy cow."

Heading toward the clubhouse for early-morning physical examinations, the players walked past frost-blanketed grass.

"I've never seen that before," reliever Kelvin Herrera said. "There's no ice in the Dominican."

By the time everyone had their exams and headed onto the practice fields of the Surprise complex, the 34 pitchers and seven catchers were bathed in sunshine. By the time the workout ended in early afternoon, the temperature was up to 61 degrees.

"Everything went fine," Yost said. "It was a good day for us. The weather turned out fine. It was beautiful."

Ah, spring!

Work officially was under way for the jazzed-up Royals, their pitching staff enhanced by the addition of starters James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana, as well as the retention of Jeremy Guthrie. Having that foursome leading his troops gave Yost the warm fuzzies.

"To be honest with you, it's a comforting feeling. It's a feeling of confidence knowing that our rotation is vastly improved, but what it does, it affects the whole team," Yost said. "If affects your offense because they know that on a given night, they're going to walk out there and not have to score a bunch runs, probably, to win a ballgame. ... Everybody feels good because of it."

General manager Dayton Moore aggressively attacked the Royals' acknowledged weak point, the rotation, this winter with widely applauded results.

"It's unique that you can set out a goal and be able to accomplish all that you set out to do in an offseason," Guthrie said. "I think that's what he was able to do."

Santana, coming over from the Los Angeles Angels, took a calm approach to the first day.

"It's a little exciting," Santana said. "When the season starts, that's when it's going to be exciting. But right now, we're getting things together and getting ready for the season. Just take it one day at a time and see what happens."

The rotation has been fortified and the bullpen already was strong. Pitching coach Dave Eiland is the man in charge of this bounty.

"It looks really good on paper -- the front office has done a tremendous job," Eiland said. "They've given us what we needed, now it's up to us to go do it. The game's not played on paper, there's still a lot of work we have to do. It's not like we can throw our gloves out there and everything is going to fall in place for us. There are a lot of good teams out there -- one of the best teams in all of baseball [Detroit] is in our division."

With the front four seemingly set, the pitching focus will be on filling the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Yost has candidates aplenty, with Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza topping a list that also includes Will Smith, Guillermo Moscoso, Everett Teaford and Nate Adcock.

"I've got like seven guys fighting for one spot in the rotation and two spots in the bullpen," Yost said.

Closer Greg Holland, fellow right-handers Herrera and Aaron Crow and left-hander Tim Collins are seen as bullpen locks. A possible scenario could have Chen, Hochevar and Mendoza filling the No. 5 starter spot and two long relief roles. That, along with the front four starters, adds up to 11.

"There's going to be some fierce competition there, but however it ends up, we should have one dynamic bullpen," Yost said.

He plans on carrying 12 pitchers. So that leaves one spot open for...

"Mr. X," Yost said.

Unlike some previous camps, there seems to be considerable depth in the pitching department. Plenty of candidates to be 'Mr. X.'

"Stiff competition for that job," Yost said. "Lot of good guys. Guys that have pitched in the big leagues or guys that haven't pitched in the big leagues that have quality stuff with the ability to throw strikes. Which is important. I'm not taking anybody on that pitching staff that doesn't know how to throw strikes."

The routine for the pitchers has changed somewhat this year. They're grabbing bats from the get-go because, under the new schedule format, Interleague games at National League cities come early. In fact, the Royals' second series of the season is in Philadelphia.

"We're actually running our camp like a National League camp," Yost said. "We've got to start from Day 1 and make sure that we're as proficient as we can be offensively with our pitchers. The pitchers are going to bunt every day and then they will slowly but surely work into swinging the bats so that when we play that second series of the year they'll be absolutely ready to handle the bat."

Second baseman Chris Getz was among several infielders and outfielders in the clubhouse on Tuesday as the pitchers and catchers got under way. The position players will join the workouts on Friday.

"I speak for a lot of people -- we're excited to be out here," Getz said. "Spring Training is always a fun time. It's the mark of a new season and you can kind of throw away anything, good or bad, that's happened in the past. Because every year is different, and we're pretty excited about what we have here. You can feel the genuine optimism."

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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