SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Scott Elarton has been down this road so many times in the past that each day he puts on a Major League uniform these days is a good day.

The good days have returned, but on a limited basis.

The 30-year-old right-hander has recovered so well following a third labrum surgery that when Spring Training started Saturday he was cleared to participate in all of the drills and has his first bullpen session off the mound scheduled for Tuesday.

"I'll be starting off on the mound a little slower than everyone else," he said, "but it's pretty much full-go otherwise."

A 17-game winner for the Houston Astros in 2000, Elarton is hopeful that he'll get to pitch in a Cactus League game sometime in late March and proceed to the point where his first regular-season start on a Minor League rehab assignment comes sooner than expected.

"The rehab has gone faster than anyone expected," he said. "They are talking about a May 1 return date, but if I don't have any setbacks, it could be a little ahead of that. The main thing is to get back into mound shape."

The Royals' Opening Day starter last season last appeared on a mound on July 16 at Comerica Park in Detroit. He threw 96 pitches over six innings, held the eventual American League champions to three hits, and won his fourth game of the season.

Three weeks later, he was undergoing shoulder surgery.

"When they went in, they thought I had a big rotator cuff tear," he recalled. "That's what the MRI showed. But the rotator cuff actually was fine and it was the labrum, again."

The same worn labrum that was operated on in 1999 and again in 2002.

"It was a relief to come out of surgery and find out that it was the labrum, not the rotator cuff," he said. "I had been told that coming back from a tear like they thought I had would be nearly impossible."

But even now, there are no guarantees. His throwing shoulder is loose and he's not sure how many, if any, big-league pitches remain.

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"I've had one of these [operations] about every three years and I don't want to have another one," he said. "I don't want to get it fixed again."

After nine Major League seasons, Elarton has a 54-56 record. He's still just 30 years old, which is in the prime during many careers.

"I guess everyone shoots for 10 years," he said, "but if it doesn't happen, that's fine. There always are question marks until you get completely ready. But I have been through it before and I guess I'm close enough to the end of my career to not be really worried about it.

"I don't lie awake at night wondering about it."

And they're off: There were 31 pitchers and seven catchers on hand for Saturday's first camp workout at the Surprise complex. Clear skies, warm temperatures and a brisk wind accompanied the players during the three-hour session on four practice diamonds.

"I focus on the guys I don't have any history with, guys I have heard about and haven't really seen," manager Buddy Bell said. "I just pay a lot of attention to those guys, as far as them throwing.

"The guys I really notice are the ones that throw the ball over the fence. That didn't happen today. Everything went well."

Still available: Left-hander Mark Redman, who led the Royals with 11 wins last season and represented the team in the All-Star Game, remains unsigned, and the Royals have discussed his possible return.

"We've talked about it," Bell said. "It's an interesting name, but I don't have anything to do with the money. I'm sure he's asking for quite a bit of money, and that's the big issue."

Redman, 33, also led the team in quality starts with 11 and became the first left-hander to win that many games since 1988 when Charlie Liebrandt and Floyd Bannister won 13 and 12 games, respectively.

Good rule: Bell threw his support to a new rule that could help pitching staffs. From now on, games that end in a tie, due to weather or other uncontrollable elements, will be suspended and resumed at the point of the stoppage at a later date. Previously such games were considered unofficial and replayed in their entirety from the beginning.

"I think that's a good idea," he said. "You already have played half the game and we play enough games as it is. It saves your bullpen, it saves your pitching. I wouldn't mind double-headers if you had more off-days, but it's too much of a burden on your pitching staff. So if you have played more than half of the game, you should just pick it up where it ended."

Sign here: Infielders Esteban German and Andres Blanco along with outfielder Mitch Maier and pitcher Joe Nelson reached agreement on one-year contracts on Saturday, leaving the team with 19 players with three years or less MLB experience still unsigned.