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03/30/07 11:35 PM ET

Notes: Blister won't sideline Perez

Left-hander will start second game of season as scheduled

HOUSTON -- Left-handed starter Odalis Perez is a go for his first start of the season, but the Royals will watch him closely.

In his last outing, the Royals' No. 2 starter lasted only three innings in Thursday's game against the Rangers because of a blister on his middle left finger.

After that, manage Buddy Bell voiced concern whether Perez would be able to make his first regular-season start Wednesday against the Red Sox. It was the second time in three starts Perez had been lifted because of the blister.

But Friday, Bell pronounced Perez, who was 6-8 with a 6.20 ERA last season, ready to go,

"I just talked to our trainer," Bell said before Friday's game against the Astros. "He said Perez is going to be able to start Wednesday.

"We'll have to be a little cautious with his pitch count and just have somebody ready to come in early if needed. It's a little tedious, but you never know when that type of thing will bother you."

Misleading: The Royals have hit .304 as a team in the spring, second only to the Rangers in the American League, but Bell says the stats don't always tell the story.

"The hitting's all right," he said. "But situationally, we haven't always done the job. If you hit .400 and can't drive in runs, .400 doesn't do much for you. Actually, our pitching has been the best part of Spring Training."

Just Ducky: Brandon Duckworth has been part of that good pitching in the spring after he had surgery last August to remove spurs and bone chips in his elbow. Duckworth went 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA in four outings in the spring and was announced as the No. 5 starter this week.

Duckworth, who spent 2004 and 2005 with the Astros, is just glad to be pitching without pain. He was 1-5 with a 6.11 ERA last year before getting the surgery.

"It's felt great this spring," Duckworth said. "I have been bothered by it the last four years. I never thought it was serious. I always thought it was just the natural pain you feel after pitching.

"But the surgery has made a difference, and this is the best I've felt in four years. I'm excited about the season."

Hall of Fame influence: Bell spent one season as a player with the Houston Astros in 1988, the first season for Astros All-Star Craig Biggio. Biggio says Bell influenced his career with his professional approach to the game, but Bell won't take much credit.

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"He didn't really need anybody to show him the way," Bell said. "He had hard work written all over him from the beginning even as a rookie.

"He didn't need any influences. He's had a Hall of Fame career.

"He's overachieved his whole career. He's a talented guy, but a lot of his success has had to do with how he's gone about the game."

Ready to go: Mark Grudzielanek appears ready for the start of the season.

The veteran second baseman had arthroscopic surgery on his knee March 5 but has come back to play in two Minor League games and the last three games. Bell expects to start him in the season opener.

"He has looked good," Bell said. "He'll play most of the game [Friday], and a little bit [Saturday] and he should be ready to go for the opener."

Homecoming: Octavio Dotel returned to Houston for the first time since he was the Astros closer in 2004, and the much-traveled pitcher says it feels like old times.

Dotel had 36 saves in Houston and Oakland in 2004. But the next season, he went 1-2 with seven saves in 11 opportunities before having to have reconstructive elbow surgery. He came back last year with the Yankees but struggled, posting a 10.80 ERA with 11 walks and 12 earned runs allowed in 14 games.

This spring, however, he had made eight appearances and had 15 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings entering Friday. The old fire is back.

"I feel really good," said Dotel, who has a 6.23 spring ERA but will be the Royals closer. "I have my fastball back."

Bell agrees.

"He's throwing the ball great, just great," Bell said. "He's throwing the ball about 98 mph, and that's what we wanted to see."

Unhappy Zack: Royals starter Zack Greinke pitched five innings and allowed only one run Friday night against the Astros. But he wasn't happy with allowing four hits and making center fielder David DeJesus work so hard to run down other hard-hit balls.

"I was a little up in the zone," said Grienke, who finished spring with a 1-0 record and a 3.00 ERA. "You could tell how much I was up by the way DeJesus was running after balls. They were hitting them pretty well."

Despite the Astros' 4-2 comeback win, Bell wasn't unhappy with Greinke's performance.

"He was very good," Bell said. "He was about what we've seen all spring. He had good stuff."

Ray staying aboard: Right-handed pitcher Kenny Ray, who was outrighted on Wednesday, accepted his assignment to Triple-A Omaha on Friday.

On deck: The Royals and Astros complete their two-game exhibition series Saturday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. CT. Kansas City right-hander Brandon Duckworth will face Wandy Rodriguez.

Jim Carley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.