Cardinals Notebook with Ray Mileur

Scott Rolen's play is exceeding all expectations at the start of this season, while Juan Encarnacion is taking some heat for not living up to expectations.

   Jim Edmonds had been just 1-for-9 with men in scoring position before he hit a bases-clearing, three-run double to clinched the Cardinals' 8-3 win over the Brewers on Wednesday night in the first night game played at new Busch Stadium.

   The three RBIs matched the season total for Edmonds, a notoriously fast starter, as reflected by his .330 career average in April.

   While Edmonds had started slowly, Scott Rolen hasn't.

   Rolen, hitting .367, knocked in two more runs, giving him 11 in the first eight games he's played since last July when he had the second of two left shoulder surgeries, exceding all expectations about his ability to play at 100% in April.

   The Cardinals didn't do anything they don't normally do when they play the Brewers. Over the last two seasons, they are 13-5 against them.

   REPLAY: Jason Marquis, the Silver Slugger Award winner for National League pitchers last year, was an uncustomary 0-for-3, but he pitched well over the last three innings after giving up a three-run homer to Milwaukee's Carlos Lee in the fourth.

   Marquis, resuming command of his sinkerball, got six of his last nine outs on groundouts and the other three were strikeouts from the fourth through the sixth, his last inning. He was the winner in an 8-3 decision. Marquis, the only Cardinals starter to have a losing record last year at 13-14, was the first St. Louis pitcher to get to two victories this year.


   --RF Juan Encarnacion, who entered Wednesday's game hitting .154, had his best game of the season, singling twice -- one was a perfect hit-and-run -- and scoring twice.

   --SS David Eckstein was hit by a pitch for the third time in eight games. Eckstein has been hit at least 13 times by a pitch in each of the last five seasons.

   --C Yadier Molina is playing well defensively but is 0 for his last 12. Still, he has a long way to go to catch last year's 1-for-32 start.

   --2B Aaron Miles, who started fast at 7-for-11 in his first series of the season, hasn't had a hit since and is 0-for-13.

   --SS David Eckstein, 1B Albert Pujols, 3B Scott Rolen and CF Jim Edmonds all extended hitting streaks to three games.

   BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of hitters Cardinals pitchers walked in the first four games of the season. They were also well ahead of the other 29 teams in spring training in this category.



   JUAN ENCARNACION:  Cardinals' Manager Tony La Russa took a swipe at the media yesterday, about negative reporting on the Cardinals new right fielder, Juan Encarnacion and his play to date.

Encarnacion hasn't hit, hasn't driven in runners, hasn't run the bases well and his defense has even been suspect, giving the media ammunition for their reports.

La Russa chastised the "media experts", basically claiming it's way too early to pass judgment on Encarnacion, yet.  He's a proven five tool major league player and the early criticism is unwarranted.

I agree with La Russa, but the Cardinals may have contributed to this problem by telling fans that Encarnacion, is an upgrade this season over Larry Walker. 

I never believed it then, I don't believe it now.  That said, Encarnacion should still be a decent effective and serviceable outfielder for St. Louis and the sooner they move him to the sixth hole in the batting order the better. 

The expectations for Juan, have been too high from fans and perhaps the organization from the start and the person it hurts the most, is the player that we will be depending on this season to play right field.

   JUNIOR SPIVEY: "He made a very intelligent choice to go out and get the rust off." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on 2B Junior Spivey's acceptance of an assignment to Triple-A Memphis after he hit .147 this spring.

"It's got to be a tough situation for him," Memphis hitting coach Tommy Gregg said. "What I'm seeing is he's been playing hard. He's been a good example for the young guys. The situation being what it is, he's handled himself really well. He realizes he has to get better.

". . . This could be a good thing for him, to get himself back on track. If you take it in a positive way and get things straightened out, you can take it as a motivator to get back to the big leagues."

Gregg said he takes it as a challenge to help Spivey find his stroke.

"I sat down with him, got him in the cage, gave him my opinion," Gregg said. "I just want him to have good at-bats and good swings. I think he's had some pitches that he could really hit hard. . . . He's got quick hands. He's got a good eye. He's not striking out a lot. He's getting some pitches to hit, but he's just off of them."

Said Spivey: "It comes with timing. It doesn't have anything to do with my swing."  So far he is hitting .288 for the Memphis Redbirds.

Spivey who has battled injuries for the past three seasons is confident he'll make it back to St. Louis soon.

My take on this from the get go, was that the Cardinals were expecting too much out of Spivey early on.  He was three seasons away from being an everyday player and I didn't have much confidence he would earn the job (if he had to earn it) out of spring training.

I will confess, I was surprised the Cardinals actually sent him to Triple-A Memphis.

The questions that remain in my mind, can he be an everyday player and should the Cardinals be counting on him to return? 

Of course they have about 1.2 million reasons to want him back.



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