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Kalish calm ahead of first start since '12

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PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Kalish knew he would be starting on Wednesday, his first start in the big leagues since Sept. 11, 2012. And he slept great Tuesday night.

Kalish, who started in left field for the Cubs against the Pirates, missed all of last season after needing cervical fusion surgery, which involved the removal of a disc in his neck and the insertion of a metal plate. NFL quarterback Peyton Manning had the same surgery, and Kalish even had the same doctor, spinal specialist Robert Watkins. Kalish was injured in April 2011 after colliding with an outfield wall.

"I feel calm about it, in a good way," Kalish said prior to Wednesday's game. "I'm still excited, and nerves are a part of it for sure. I just feel like everything now is just a lot of gravy for me.

"I have big goals for my career and big goals for this team, but I don't know, maybe I'm getting older and learning to keep it a little more relaxed, because you see the best players in the game do things easy rather than too hard, or a lot of effort behind their swing, or whatever they're doing," he said.

Kalish was a non-roster invitee on the Cubs this spring and made the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. He did appear in Monday's season opener against the Pirates, but that's not the same as starting.

"I'm happy to be in the lineup for sure and I'm proud of myself getting back to this point, but there's a lot of work to be done still," Kalish said. "It's not about just today. We're focused on today, but going forward, I want to continue to feel comfortable about playing in the Major Leagues again and just playing my game for this team."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein knows Kalish well, having been with the Red Sox when they selected the outfielder in the ninth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

"He's a particularly good fit for us," Epstein said. "He's left-handed, has good at-bats, outstanding plate discipline, knows how to get on base; he's a well-rounded player, plays defense, can run and throw. He brings an energy and edge to the ballpark each day and understands the team concept. After what he's been through, you have to be thrilled for him."

Kalish needs at least 1 1/2 hours each day to do exercises to maintain his flexibility and core strength.

"I enjoy the warm up now because you learn about the physiology of the body," he said. "You know certain things you didn't know five years ago."

Kalish would like to someday talk to Manning and compare notes.

"It'd be interesting to hear what he had to say about his experience," Kalish said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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