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03/31/11 8:44 PM ET

Kendrick coming into own at critical time

Until Kendrys Morales returns, there could be some shuffling in the Angels' lineup.

One player who can ease some of the burden during Morales' recovery is second baseman Howard Kendrick, who proved during his solid Spring Training that he can provide offensive output from the No. 2 hole.

On Thursday, Kendrick opened the regular season with a double in his first at-bat and the Angels defeated the Royals, 4-2. The two teams will continue their season-opening series at 8:10 p.m. ET on Friday at Kauffman Stadium, with Angels righty Dan Haren facing Kansas City left-hander Jeff Francis.

"This guy's definitely grown as a ballplayer," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Kendrick, who finished 1-for-4. "One thing is he saw more pitches [this spring]. He had a terrific spring. Hopefully, he's going to carry that into the season. He's an aggressive hitter. When he gets a ball in the zone, whether it's a fastball or curveball, he's as good as it gets hitting the ball hard somewhere."

Despite Kendrick's improvement in pitch selection -- and Scioscia saying Kendrick can "flat out hit" -- the Angels skipper doesn't think Kendrick is a prototypical No. 2 hitter. If Kendrick doesn't fit in the two-hole, the Angels can shift Bobby Abreu there when Morales returns, with Kendrick moving to sixth.

If the 27-year-old flourishes, however, it will make the Angels' lineup that much deeper.

Facing Kendrick and the Angels on Friday will be Francis, who will begin his first year in the American League after spending parts of seven seasons with the Rockies. After missing all of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 following surgery on his left shoulder, Francis went 4-6 with a 5.00 ERA for Colorado.

Francis will be opposed by Haren, who will start his first full season with the Angels. He went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts after coming over in a trade with Arizona in July.

Yost: Pitch counts will be monitored

• Royals skipper Ned Yost said Thursday he will place no special restrictions on his starters, but will watch their pitch counts during the season's early weeks. Yost said he'll basically hold his starters to around 100 pitches. "The first couple starts, I start really paying attention at the 90-pitch mark," Yost said. "I don't push 'em to 125 the first time out. It'll be basically around the 100-pitch mark and then the third, fourth start they'll be ready to go 110, 115."

• Likewise, don't expect Yost to give any special treatment to the Royals' four bullpen rookies: Jeremy Jeffress, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Nate Adcock. "I don't baby any of them. We'll throw 'em in when we need 'em," Yost said. "I treat 'em like anybody else. I don't treat 'em like a rookie."

• Mike Sweeney, who retired as a Royal on March 25 after signing a one-day contract with the club, threw out Thursday's ceremonial first pitch.

Scioscia: Morales almost ready to run

• Morales continues recovering from last season's broken leg and spent Opening Day taking batting practice and ground balls with the rest of the team. The biggest step -- running at top speed -- could come soon, Scioscia said. "Hopefully -- definitely -- he'll be running on this road trip," Scioscia said. "We'll be able to see where he is. The progression of running 100 percent is still a variable right now. Once he runs 100 percent, he'll play in games the next day." Morales likely will need 10 Minor League games before returning to the Majors.

• Despite going 0-for-4 on Thursday, rookie first baseman Mark Trumbo said prior to the game he felt his swing is in a good place for the start of the season. "The timing's there," Trumbo said. "That's the most important thing for me. I've been hitting some balls hard to right and right-center, which tells me it is where I want it to be."

• Reliever Scott Downs, recovering from a fractured bone in his left big toe, is throwing off the mound and waiting to be cleared for fielding practice.

Worth noting

Royals second baseman Chris Getz was the only member of Thursday's starting lineup to start the same position he played when the Royals opened 2010. (Billy Butler, who started Thursday at designated hitter, was the first baseman a year ago.) ... Scioscia now is 7-1 on Opening Day since losing his first four openers. ... With Thursday's win, the Angels improved to 3-1 all-time against the Royals on Opening Day. Thursday's game was the first time the two squared off on the season's first day since 1975, and it also marked the first Opening Day the Angels spent in Kansas City.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.