Your fourth outfielder, maybe third - So Taguchi

Recent patterns of play as well as results speak volumes about the Cardinals' new outfield pecking order.

Since the second game of the Toronto series, exactly two weeks ago, on June 14, outfielder So Taguchi has started 12 of 13 games in the Cardinals outfield, including Tuesday evening.

Prior to that, in the first two-and-a-half months of regular season play, So had as many as three at-bats in just 19 of the team's first 62 games.

Of course, much of that extra playing time Taguchi has received recently was due to the ongoing neck problems of Larry Walker and the rib injury that caused Jim Edmonds to miss eight games this month.

Still, it has been an impressive climb up the unwritten Cardinals outfield depth chart for Taguchi. This spring, he had to accept a salary decrease to return to the Cardinals for a fourth season and had to earn his roster spot in spring camp. Despite hitting a subpar .254, Taguchi came north with the team.

Starting the season, So had generally been thought of as the team's sixth outfielder behind the three starters, Reggie Sanders, Edmonds and Walker, plus Roger Cedeno and John Mabry.

Cedeno was first injured, then designated for assignment, and Mabry, who despite also being a backup third baseman and first baseman, is listed on the roster as an outfielder, where has appeared in corner outfield positions in 34 of his 49 games played this season.

Looking at the last two weeks, it is clear that Taguchi's hot hand has sprung him ahead of Mabry (and of course, past the deposed Cedeno) in the outfield pecking order.

When both Edmonds and Walker were out during these two weeks, Mabry started five of six games. However, he has not been in the lineup six of the seven games since. During that entire stretch, Mabry has hit just .200, having gone 6-for-30, with just one extra base hit.

In comparison, during these same two weeks, Taguchi has raised his 2005 average 51 points, from a mediocre .229 to a very respectable .280. During that stretch, So has hit .343, 18-for-47, including a double, two home runs and eight RBI, not to mention his continued and expected extremely-sound defense in all three outfield spots.

I believe that there is no more serious Cardinal about his preparation for the game than Taguchi. Perhaps it is partially culture, as Japanese players are drilled in fundamentals. But, it may be just as much an understanding that because he may not be as physically gifted as many others, that he has to gain any edge he can. I have personally seen Taguchi quietly studying tapes of opposing pitchers for hours on end, taking detailed notes as he goes.

Don't look now, but it looks like middle infielder Hector Luna is officially next in the outfield carousel. Like Mabry and Taguchi, he is listed on the Cardinals official roster as an outfielder, despite having played just 14 of his 90 career games there.

Just as Marlon Anderson and many other La Russa "infielders playing the outfield" who have come before him, I guess Luna's outfield training will occur on the job. But, it will happen regularly only if So Taguchi will slide over.

The combination of Walker's continuing problems and the way Taguchi is swinging the bat makes it look like that will not be happening anytime soon.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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