Injuries continue to plague Royals

Injuries continue to plague Royals

TEMPE, Ariz. -- First it was Alex Gordon going down. Now it's his replacement at third base, Alberto Callaspo, who might also miss Opening Day.

That's not a certainty but it's possible, Royals manager Trey Hillman indicated on Monday.

Callaspo suffered a pull in his right side during batting practice on Friday and has not played since.

"It was just irritation on his side, it wasn't really listed as a strain," Hillman said. "But he doesn't feel it at all throwing, he doesn't feel it all swinging right-handed."

However, it has bothered the switch-hitter when he swings left-handed and that's the way he'd be batting next Monday in the Opening Day matchup against the Detroit Tigers' hard-throwing right-hander Justin Verlander.

"We can't control the time we're running out of -- I don't know, I'm up in the air," Hillman said.

If Callaspo isn't ready, third base could be filled by Josh Fields, Mike Aviles or Willie Bloomquist.

Fields has struggled at bat all spring (.157) and there's no guarantee he'll make the club. Aviles is coming off elbow surgery and it's not yet certain if he's ready to make the long throws from the left side of the infield. And Bloomquist has been edged into action rather slowly because of double-knee surgery last winter but he seems ready.

Aviles is hitting .500 and Bloomquist .429 so there's nothing wrong with their bats. Also, non-roster third baseman Wilson Betemit is in camp and is hitting .317.

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Gordon, who suffered a broken right thumb in the third game, will start the season on the disabled list and then do rehabilitation work in the Minors.

Center fielder Rick Ankiel, who last played on March 11 because of a sore ankle, finally returned to the Royals' lineup as the designated hitter on Monday and had four plate appearances. He doubled, grounded out and walked twice.

Hillman anticipates that Ankiel will be ready for next Monday's opener and that he'll have his timing at bat back despite the long layoff. Ankiel played in a Minor League game on Sunday.

"His at-bats, even though they've been kind of sporadic, have been OK," Hillman said.

Ankiel was moving well on Monday and will return to center field on Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians.

"We'll see how it goes," Hillman said. "I'd like to get half a game out of him and more if it keeps feeling good."

On the day after the successful throwing test for his right shoulder, pitcher Gil Meche gave his condition in three words: "I feel great."

It hasn't been decided when Meche might pitch again. Pitching coach Bob McClure suggested he might go Saturday against the Rangers in the last exhibition game at Frisco, Texas. But Hillman said Brian Bannister, who was pitching in a Minor League game on Monday, is slotted as the probable starter that day.

Hillman also said one starting pitcher likely would remain in Surprise and pitch in game conditions on Sunday.

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