Cain has a Gold Glove and more offense in his sights, but first he must stay healthy
'We need you to stay healthy,' Royals fans plead, and Lorenzo Cain hears them. He'll do his best, though he says he plays the game hard and will continue to do so. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Sal Perez, Tim Collins, Trevor Plouffe, Adam Jones, Sonic Slam grand slam
Lorenzo Cain had some key hits last season, but on the whole he needs to up his offensive production in 2014.
Peter G. Aiken / USA TODAY Sports
By Jeffrey Flanagan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Before fans even say hello to Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain, they always seem to have one thing to say to him first.
"You have no idea how many times I've had people come up to me and say, 'We need you to stay healthy,'" Cain says. "But hey, it's understandable."
No one is more frustrated with Cain's history of injuries than Cain.
In 2012, which was supposed to be his first full season in the major leagues, Cain suffered a groin pull in the fifth game of the season.
Then during rehab for that injury, he tore his left hip flexor. In all, Cain missed 78 games before returning to the Royals. But then a hamstring pull ended his season for good in September.
Last season, the Royals rested Cain regularly in an effort to keep him off the disabled list. It worked, at least until August, when he strained an oblique muscle. That put him out for a month, and truth be told, he wasn't nearly the same player when he returned in September.
This homer-stealing catch in Minnesota typified the Gold Glove-worthy season Lorenzo Cain had in 2013.
Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports
Cain doesn't consider himself fragile, just a bit unlucky. And he vows not to scale his game back just to avoid injury.
"I guess I'm a little reckless at times, running into walls and such," he says. "That's my game. That's how I play. I play hard. I just got to try to keep this body as healthy as possible."
When healthy, Cain plays center field as well as anyone in baseball. Last season he made highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch.
But Cain didn't capture the Gold Glove award, which went to Baltimore's Adam Jones. He still feels he earned the award.
"I mean, personally, I think so," he says. "Things didn't fall in my favor. I feel like I made a lot of plays last year.
"People might say I didn't play in enough games last year. Adam Jones got the recognition, so it is what it is. I have to go out and prove myself."
Cain, however, was named the Royals' defensive player of the year by Wilson for the second straight season, this time beating out Gold Glove winners Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Sal Perez.
"I'll take it," he says, smiling. "If they want to award me, that's great.
"I got to a lot of balls. I feel like I did a great job (defensively) last year. But the goal now is to improve on last year. Last year was last year."
Many of Cain's catches last season will resonate with Royals fans for years to come, such as the homer-robbing catch over the fence that he made in Minnesota.
With the Royals up 5-2 and the Twins threatening in the fifth inning, Trevor Plouffe sent a blast that appeared to be headed for the Royals' bullpen in center field.
"We couldn't really see where Lorenzo was," reliever Tim Collins recalls. "We saw Alex come to the ball and we saw the ball coming at us, then right at the last minute we saw Lorenzo and his glove coming over the wall."
Cain leaped and pulled the ball back from over the top of the fence.
"I think we were all just kind of stunned," Collins says. "We didn't know what to think. Then we all got up and started cheering. It was pretty cool."
But that wasn't even Cain's favorite catch of the year. His favorite was against the Orioles during the first homestand after the All-Star break. The Orioles already were leading 2-0 when Adam Jones, with the bases loaded, ripped a shot toward the right-center-field gap and seemingly over Cain's head.
But Cain raced back and then dived -- fully extended and back to the infield -- and made the grab.
"He misses that and we're down 5-0 and it's the game, probably," Gordon said at the time.
The Royals lost anyway, but plays such as that defined the Royals after the All-Star break. They went on to win eight of their next nine and 11 of 13 to crawl back into the playoff chase.
And while Cain had a down year offensively, he did come up with some huge home runs, like the two-run homer off Tigers closer Jose Valverde in the bottom of the ninth in June that led to an eventual Royals win.
And then there was the Sonic Slam grand slam by Cain that sparked a rally from a 5-0 deficit against Cleveland on July 4 in a game the Royals won 10-7. That grand slam netted an Overland Park woman $25,000.
"That was my first career grand slam, so that was special," he says. "And it was pretty cool to make someone some money."
This season, Cain pledges to be better offensively throughout, even if he is slotted to hit eighth in the lineup.
"I had a down year for home runs, but I did get some key hits," Cain says. "I just need to do more of that.
"And I don't care where they put me in the order. If I hit ninth, I'll be the best nine hitter there is."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.