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Knoblauch Struggles to Get Started

May 27, 2002

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Chuck Knoblauch is not about to make any excuses despite his early struggles.

``He doesn’t want anybody to say this so I’ll say it right now,″ Kansas City Royals general manager Allard Baird said. ``He’s beat-up. He’s banged-up. But he refuses to come out of the lineup.″

For the next few days, however, Knoblauch may have no choice. The Royals planned to rest him much of this week, hoping to soothe an ailing 33-year-old body and a sickly .179 average.

A single in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader sweep of Texas broke an 0-for-16 skid. But it was the final hit of the day for the leadoff hitter.

``What we need to do for Chuck Knoblauch is help him get healthy,″ Baird said.

Baird felt Knoblauch had much to offer, including leadership on a team that’s known nothing but losing, so he signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract last fall after the New York Yankees let him go.

But nothing has been easy for Knoblauch in what he hoped would be a turnaround season.

First came the loss of his father. Near the end of spring training, Ray Knoblauch died after a lengthy illness.

Then came injury. Early in April he hurt his leg while making a diving catch in left field. A couple of weeks later, he strained his elbow and forearm on a checked swing.

``It’s not an excuse,″ he said. ``I’m hitting what I’m hitting.″

The same could be said for the rest of the team as well. Despite the euphoria of Sunday’s doubleheader sweep, their first in almost five years, the fact remains the Royals have been one of the weakest-hitting clubs in the league.

First baseman Mike Sweeney, who was 5-for-10 on Sunday, is having another All-Star year, hitting .345. But Joe Randa at .297 is the only other regular whose average is above .263. Right-fielder Michael Tucker, another key offseason acquisition, is hitting .218. Shortstop Neifi Perez is at .230. Second baseman Carlos Febles is hitting .229.

As a team, the Royals will take a .241 average into Tuesday night’s game against Anaheim.

But it’s hard to muster much offense when the leadoff hitter is batting under .200 while trying to overcome injury.

``Don’t bring up the subject of injuries to him,″ Baird said. ``He’ll say there’s not a problem. But as a general manager, I’m saying there is a problem. He’s wanting to go out there every day because he knows his role and he knows his importance. But the reality is, a healthy Chuck Knoblauch will help this ballclub win.″

Even without a healthy average, however, the Royals say Knoblauch is still a big help.

``He’s helped us to be more patient at the plate,″ said Sweeney, whose RBI total has been held to 27 despite his average. ``You can’t just look at his average and tell what he’s done for us. And he’ll start hitting. You know it’s just a matter of time.″