Originally written January 23, 2012 on Fox Sports Midwest:
Ed
Shortstop Rafael Furcal went from having the worst year of his career to the best when the Cardinals' magical run led them all the way to a World Series title. Furcal had two month-long stays on the disabled list before being traded to St. Louis and hit a career-worst .231 with the Dodgers and Cardinals. Despite winning his first World Series ring, Furcal hopes to stay healthy and contribute more to the Cardinals success in 2012. "This year is a different year," Furcal said. "Last year I was hurt for two months and never could get my timing down. I only took 300 at-bats when I'm used to taking 600 or 700 at-bats. "I've never hit .220 and this year I want to improve my hitting and score more runs for my team." Furcal signed a two-year extension to return to the Cardinals shortly after first baseman Albert Pujols left and signed with the Anaheim Angels. And the Cardinals are banking on the 34-year-old Furcal rebounding from an injury-plagued 2011 season and regaining the All-Star form that made him one of the elite players in the game for much of his career. Furcal spent time on the disabled list with a broken thumb and muscle strain that caused him to have just 137 at-bats when he was traded from Los Angeles to the Cardinals on July 31. The switch-hitter never got on track after the missed time and was hitting just .197 at the time of the trade. His numbers improved slightly after arriving in St. Louis he hit .255 in 50 games with the Cardinals to finish the year at .231 in 369 at-bats. But he hit just .195 (15-77) in 18 games for the Cardinals in the playoffs and had just five hit in the seven-game World Series. He was a virtual non-factor at the plate to finish the year, something he hopes staying healthy will fix. "I was so excited that I finished the year healthy," Furcal said. "I'm working so hard with everything. I tried to rest for a month and after that, I'm working hard to be healthy for the whole season because I don't want to be hurt. I want to help my team as much as I can." Furcal hit seven home runs with the Cardinals in just 50 games, more than he hit in four entire seasons. The pace was more frequent than when he hit a career-high 15 home runs in both 2003 and 2006. When he struggled late in the season, it appeared Furcal had become homer happy and was swinging for the fences with every swing. His average suffered because of it, making more of a ground-ball approach seem to a logical point of emphasis this spring. In addition to increasing his average and getting more hits, the Cardinals and Furcal hope being healthy will allow him to steal more bases. The speedster swiped just nine bases last year, the second lowest total of his 12-year big league career. Furcal stole at least 20 bases in each of the first eight years of his career and has seven seasons of at least 25 stolen bases. And stolen bases are something the Cardinals could use more of. Tyler Greene led the team with just 11 stolen bases despite spending a good majority of the season at Triple-A and the Cardinals had the second fewest steals in all of baseball with just 57. "Yeah, why not?" Furcal said when asked if he plans to run more this year. "If I am going to be healthy and they give me the green light and let me go, I'm going. "If they give me the green light, I'll take the opportunity to do it." It all starts with staying healthy. And as Furcal quickly pointed out, there's another key factor. "You have to be on first base, first," the shortstop joked. "You can't steal first base." Furcal hopes to be on first base plenty this year.
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