March 07, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) Mike Moustakas surveys the Kansas City Royals clubhouse and knows it will not look the same next spring.

He's eligible for free agency after this season. So are teammates Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar - all four made their KC debuts in 2011.

''We came up through the minor leagues together,'' Moustakas said. ''We spend eight or nine years of our lives together. We've got to know each other really well. We became more of a family than anything. When you spend 162 days together playing baseball and seven, eight or nine hours a day for 10 years, you get to know people. We've become more of a brotherhood, more of a family and that's what this organization is about,'' he said.

''The business side is the business side. That's something we really don't think of too much. We try to go out there and play baseball and enjoy the time we do have together. So go out there and do what we do every single year and try to win a World Series and see where we're at at the end of this thing,'' he said.

Moustakas, who helped the Royals win the title in 2015, is coming back from surgery on his right knee. He needed the operation after he collided with left fielder Alex Gordon chasing a fly foul on May 22.

Moustakas had been limited to designated hitter duties until Monday, when he started at third base. He homered Tuesday in a 7-3 loss to Cincinnati.

''It was cool to see Moose hit his first home run of the spring,'' manager Ned Yost said.

Moustakas had been eager to get back on the field.

''We've been taking a lot of groundballs, lot of practice, so maybe a little bit like riding a bike,'' Moustakas said. ''Nothing is really the same until you get back in a game and get the game speed, adrenaline going. I'm sure opening day will be a little bit different, but it felt good to get out there.''

On Monday against Arizona, the first Diamondbacks batter hit a grounder to Moustakas. Royals players in the dugout tipped their cap to Moustakas after he made the play - they also tipped their caps to him when he misjudged a blooper into single.

''The boys don't let anything slide,'' Moustakas said, grinning. ''Not my best. It was definitely a play that has to be made. It will come with time.''

Moustakas started last season by hitting seven home runs in his first 20 games. He then fractured his left thumb making a tag and aggravated it hitting. He went on the disabled list for 15 days, returned for two games and sustained the knee injury. Moustakas' season ended after 27 games.

''I'm definitely excited to be out there,'' Moustakas said. ''I'm ready to go. It's been way too long. I'm about 100 percent right now.''

Moustakas had been in a spring training drought at 1 for 16 before homering against Sal Romano in the first inning. He also walked and struck out.

Moustakas will continue his ritual this season of inscribing the initials of his mother, Connie, in the dirt before his first at-bat and at third base. She died in 2015 from cancer. This year Moustakas expanded that, carving ''Ace'' in memory of Yordano Ventura, the Royals pitcher who died in January in a vehicle crash in the Dominican Republic.

''It's just a tough thing to deal with losing a friend, a family member, a buddy,'' Moustakas said. ''It's definitely hard.''

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