The Redbird Report - 02/24

Before he spoke to his team on the first full day of spring training, manager Tony La Russa said he talked to other coaches or managers who had been in a similar position of trying to repeat titles.

"The most common advice I got was that we're not in the business of defending a championship," La Russa said. "It's all about a brand-new competition. We're exactly where we were last year.

"I really don't think our situation has changed much because we've been a good club for several years, and I think clubs have respected us for several years.

"So I don't think anybody is going to set their rotation up any more than they have in the past. You've got everybody you've got to beat, and you can't concentrate on one club. It's just about ourselves. We're going to have fans congratulating us every day. And we just need to make sure that works for us and not against us."

On the two days before the first full-squad workout, La Russa had been a guest of owner Bill France at the Daytona Speedway to watch the Daytona 500 and then served as a guest speaker to coach Billy Donovan's University of Florida basketball team.

Pertaining to Daytona and the spectacle that it has become, La Russa said, "The Daytona 500 makes the World Series look like a 'B' game in the morning."

As for his speech to the defending national champion Gators, La Russa quipped, "I told them the same thing I say here. Get so far ahead that the coach can't screw it up."

Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, a Florida alumnus, had set up La Russa's meeting with Donovan.

WHERE, WHEN: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. First exhibition game is Feb. 28 against the Marlins.


--LHP Mark Mulder, who is scheduled to return in July after rotator cuff surgery last September, said he thought his shoulder problems might even stem to the end of the 2004 season, before the Cardinals acquired him from Oakland for RHPs Danny Haren and Kiko Calero.

"I didn't think anything was wrong at the time," Mulder said. "I wasn't throwing correctly, but I never would have imagined needing surgery. "It didn't necessarily hurt to pitch. It felt weak."

--OF Rick Ankiel is back for his 10th spring training with the Cardinals. He is an outfielder now after his pitching career flamed out, and he's attempting to return after missing yet another season due to injury (knee surgery) last year.

"I'm still pretty young. I'm only 27," Ankiel said. "It seems a lot of guys are making it to the big leagues when they're 26 or 27. I don't think my window's closing."

Ankiel, in his first full season as an outfielder in 2005, hit 21 homers in 321 at-bats at Class A and Double-A.

--3B Scott Rolen said his focus this camp is on baseball, rather than how his shoulder feels. Rolen is another year removed from the multiple surgeries he had on his left shoulder in 2005.

"When I came to spring last year, I was still hurt, still rehabbing," he said. "I didn't have to miss any drills, but I was basically starting over."

--LHP Ricardo Rincon said he has felt no pain or soreness in his surgically repaired left shoulder and elbow. "Everything feels good," he said. "I've thrown every pitch. It feels normal."

--OF John Rodriguez hit .301 in part-time duty last year but will have to fight for a roster spot this year, especially if the Cardinals keep 12 pitchers and only 13 position players. "He can be a power bat off the bench, if that's what he wants to be," said manager Tony La Russa, mindful that Rodriguez, hampered by a bad shoulder, hit only two homers last year.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Number of hits prospective starter Braden Looper has in 10 career at-bats over 572 games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've felt good about our team since 2000. I feel as good about this team as those teams." -- Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.

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