Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 5/31/12
ST. LOUIS - Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal is playing like hes 25 again, spraying hits all over the field and making highlight reel defensive plays on a nightly basis. But the 34-year-olds body knows better. I dont feel young again, I feel old Furcal jokes. But Im working hard and trying to stay in shape and stay healthy and be at that same level as before. Its been an impressive bounce-back year for Furcal, who could be in line for Comeback Player of the Year honors should he continue at anywhere close to his current production. Furcal went 2-for-5 Wednesday with two runs scored in the Cardinals 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves, raising his average to .333. He has nine three-hit games and a four-hit game and has scored multiple runs in eight games. And his success is rather different from a year ago when he was hitting just .197 when the Dodgers traded him to St. Louis at the trade deadline. So whats the difference? Being healthy, Furcal said. When you play every day and youre not sitting out for a month, you can keep that rhythm. Im healthy, but last year I wasnt and it was tough being out because I didnt have my timing. Furcal spent a month on the disabled list on two different occasions last year with Los Angeles and was hitting under .200 in 37 games before the Dodgers shipped him to St. Louis on July 31. He stabilized the Cardinals need for defense up the middle and contributed at a .255 clip at the plate in 50 games. The 13-year veteran returned to St. Louis on a two-year, 14 million contract in December after Albert Pujols departed for Anaheim and freed up the Cardinals with some extra money. But he looked much older than 34 in Spring Training when he hit just .192 and looked lost at the plate. Things couldnt have turned around any greater once the games began to count as Furcal had three hits on Opening Day in Miami and hasnt slowed since. He leads all National League shortstop in hits, average, runs scored, on-base percentage and OPS. A trip to his third All-Star Game seems all but guaranteed assuming his numbers dont completely fall off the table. And considering where he was last summer and the thoughts of retirement that creeped into his head, this one would likely be the most gratifying. I always say I want to play until my body tells me to stop playing, Furcal said. Because when Ive got hurt a lot the past few years it was very disappointing to me. I work so hard to be ready to go every day and then getting hurt, it made me so mad because I wanted to keep playing every day. I love what I do and I want to play. Furcal has appeared in 49 of the Cardinals 51 games this year and has remained injury free so far. But he may be showing signs of fatigue of late, hitting just .231 (15-for-65) in his past 16 games after holding a .383 average on May 13. But when hes not hitting, hes still contributing in the field. Furcal made three impressive plays Sunday at home against the Phillies, cutting down an important run at home plate on a grounder in the hole. Watching Furcal play defense this year makes it hard for some to believe hes yet to win a Gold Glove in his career. Its something you have to do in this game when youre not hitting, Furcal said. You have to help the team somewhere. I have to play defense because hopefully I can still help us win when Im not hitting. Its only been rare occasions this season when Furcal hasnt been hitting. Hes been a key table-setter for the Cardinals offense, which ranks tops in the National League in nearly all major statistical categories. Hes even stolen eight bases, putting him on pace for the most hes had since he stole 25 bases in 2007. So if hes feeling this good, why not just get greedy and steal every time he gets on base? You have to realize that Im not a young guy, Furcal reminds. Im not 22 or 23 years old. Im 34 years old. The way hes played this year, youd have a tough time knowing.
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