Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain spent his offseason back home in Oklahoma, sweating through sprint workouts and counting up 100-yard gassers. The running was quite miserable. He pushed himself to the point of exhaustion. Yet he considered it essential, a type of preventative medicine entering a crucial season.
For years, Cain had followed a strict workout regimen in the winter. He focused on strengthening the muscles in his legs. He re-shaped his running form and gait. He attempted to rid himself of the nagging leg injuries that robbed him of so many games early in his career.
But after being limited to just 103 games in 2016, Cain re-tooled his regimen once again. He stuck with the basic framework, he says, a schedule that included an assortment of pool workouts. But as the winter months passed, he did more conditioning than he ever had before.
“Just building strength,” Cain said. “Just making sure my legs are ready for 162 games.”
For Cain, the emphasis on his health could be critical as he prepares to reach free-agency following the 2017 season. In the last four seasons, he has won MVP honors in the American League Championship Series, made an All-Star team and served as the No. 3 hitter for a world champion — all while playing premium defense in center field. The one knock: He has played in an average of just 122 games per season during the stretch.
“I haven’t done a great job of being on the field every year,” Cain said. “I don’t really set goals. But my main goal is to stay healthy throughout the year. I just try to let everything else take care of itself.”
For Cain, the health question is paramount. It could also help define the 2017 Royals as they attempt to rebound from an 81-81 finish in 2016. While Cain was hampered by hamstring and wrist ailments, Mike Moustakas was limited to just 27 games after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Alex Gordon played in just 128 contests after breaking his hand in the collision that felled Moustakas.
“It was definitely a rough season for injuries and our record definitely showed in a big way,” Cain said. “A lot of guys got hurt. We didn’t have our regulars out there. At the same time, it’s part of the game.”
Royals manager Ned Yost will not make excuses for last season, nor will he entertain the possibility that his team is due for better fortune in 2017.
“I don’t worry about that,” he said. “It’s part of it. You just got to deal with it.”
Still, as the Royals stopped in Texas on Friday night for the first of two exhibition games, Yost said the club would likely be cautious with Moustakas during the season’s opening month. There is no set plan for additional days off or a lighter workload. And the extra days off in the April schedule could help Moustakas maintain regular playing time. But Yost said he could use Moustakas as a designated hitter at times, to keep pressure off his surgically-repaired knee.
After opening the season against the Minnesota Twins on Monday at Target Field, the Royals will see Twins left-hander Hector Santiago on Wednesday in the second game of the series. Yost floated the idea of using Moustakas as the DH in that game, while starting Cheslor Cuthbert at third base. For now, though, the Royals will take it day by day.
“After sitting out all year, we just got to get him back into an every-day routine,” Yost said.
In some ways, of course, injuries are impossible to predict or prevent. Before last season, Cain says, he prepared his body like he always had. He still strained his hamstring in late July.
In the same way, an organization can employ the best training staff, utilize the latest technology, and offer the best preventative care. But sometimes an outfielder and third baseman will still collide on a fluky play in Chicago.
For now, though, Cain is optimistic. His offseason was productive. His preparation was exhaustive. He’s ready for the grind of the season. At some point, he says, that’s all you can do.
“I feel good today,” Cain said. “I just got to feel good throughout the season.”