David Eckstein took early batting practice again and came into the clubhouse with strength and conditioning coach Pete Prinzi about 4:00 P.M. All systems are go for the shortstop to come off the disabled list as soon as Friday.
As noted in a hot news item before 3:00 P.M. today, Yadier Molina is back in the Cardinals line-up on Thursday for the final game of the Mets series. La Russa said Molina was "playing in the first half as good as any catcher in baseball". He would not comment, however, on whether Molina missing 26 games took him out of All-Star Game consideration. He did acknowledge that it is "important" to Molina.
Kelly Stinnett was optioned out. La Russa gave the catcher the news on Wednesday night, but he hasn't decided whether or not he will report to Memphis. Family considerations are involved. La Russa gushed over Stinnett, calling his play "amazing", harkening back to his first day with the team, handling a succession of pitchers he had never seen before in a one-run, extra-inning contest. La Russa wants him to report, but will respect Stinnett's decision.
The news on Scott Spiezio is not so great. He continues to be hospitalized as he receives treatment for an infection in his left index finger. The valuable utility infielder is remaining behind in New York and will not be making the trip to Cincinnati.
Dave Duncan made it clear to me that Braden Looper has nothing else to show, prove, display or anything else. He will be the Cardinals starter on Sunday. (This discussion was prior to Thursday's rainout.)
In Jupiter, Chris Carpenter pitched his simulated game good for 34 pitches on Wednesday. La Russa said "everything about him is good". Duncan told me that he is looking for Carp to get up to 80 pitches "comfortably". The estimate is four more starts. Every fifth day would put the ace back most optimistically on July 22.
Continuing on Carp, Duncan told me that the level of competition in the minor league system is "no factor at all" when determining where rehab assignments occur. It is dependent on where there are openings for the player to pitch. In this case, Dunc says Carp will remain in Jupiter for his entire minor league period. So, no Roger Clemens-like tour is in the offing. Sorry, Memphis and Springfield.
With Mets manager Willie Randolph out of being one of La Russa's All-Star Game coaches due to shoulder surgery over the break, La Russa needs another coach. Cross Phillies manager Charlie Manuel off the list of potential candidates, as he is also undergoing a medical procedure over the break.
While batting practice was canceled by a heavy mid-afternoon rain on Wednesday, the grounds crew leader stopped in La Russa's office at 4:30 P.M., offering to remove the tarp so the Cards could hit. La Russa agreed, so it was done.
Thursday's starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was getting in considerable video time before the game. The cramped quarters in the Mets facilities means three televisions on top of crates in a hallway makes for an impromptu video area. Quite a step down from the new Busch facility, which has several dozen large televisions. Aaron Miles and Chris Duncan were among others doing video duty.
Duncan admitted that he didn't have a first baseman's mitt on the trip, so he had to borrow one of Albert Pujols'. I asked Duncan if Albert has a "gamer". His reply was "several". I think Duncan got the second to use in Thursday's game.
I asked La Russa about Duncan hitting in the cleanup spot. The manager sort of brushed it off, noting it is the case only the first time through the order. He did acknowledge that Duncan likes to hit in the middle of the lineup and recalled he had done well in that spot earlier in the season.
La Russa admitted that he had asked Ryan Ludwick if he had ever played first base, so he wouldn't "risk messing Duncan up". Ludwick said that he had plenty of practice experience, but no game time at first. The skipper came back and said he likely wouldn't have played Ludwick at first base unless his experience there was extensive, but will test Ludwick there next spring "if we are all together then". TLR didn't look up when saying that, but we knew what he meant.
So Taguchi's 18-game hitting streak ended in the rain-shortened game Wednesday night. La Russa insisted that had nothing to do with Skip Schumaker getting the start in center and said So would have sat on Thursday either way.
I was chatting with Schumaker when Ludwick walked up to discuss outfield signals with Schumaker. The two are playing side by side in center and left respectively, in the Cards' Thursday line-up and wanted to make sure they were clear on what the calls would be. Schumaker promised to be "loud". Good idea in New York.
Albert Pujols is getting a night off Thursday. La Russa pointed out that this is about the middle of a 17-game stretch and like when resting him in an earlier series (Colorado?), they had lost two games, but managed to win with him out. I didn't go back and check the game logs on that one. The skipper acknowledged that Albert is "playing sore" and is "a little weary".
One of the New York writers breezed in with the obligatory Rick Ankiel questions. The only sort of new comment from the skipper was about him coming up – "better to be too late than too early".
Radio icon Mike Shannon was in New York for Monday's opener, but returned home for an unknown reason. Rick Horton arrived on Tuesday to pinch-hit. Here's hoping all is well with the big guy…
La Russa sees the next 11 games before the break as "really important". He believes at seven games under .500, his team has "avoided getting so far under .500 that they couldn't get back". He noted the team already had a losing record when the injuries really hit.
Tony refused to get "distracted in a negative way" about his club being 10.5 games out of first place, pointing out that history has shown that "leads come and go". He reiterated the very practical get-over-.500 mantra.
Andy Benes had spoken with Wells earlier this season about his struggles. When La Russa was asked if he had considered encouraging a similar chat between Mike Maroth (loser of 21 games with the 2003 Tigers) and Anthony Reyes. La Russa hadn't considered it, but would consider it.
La Russa reiterated his comment from Wednesday night that "Reyes pitched better than we hit". He explained he doesn't usually make comments like that, but wanted to show support for Reyes. "The number one thing Anthony needs is help to become a complete pitcher – things winning pitchers do in this league," said the manager. La Russa says Reyes "can be a real force".
The skipper discussed his philosophy next, saying "Moneyball didn't factor in human nature. A lot of coaching in major sports is about that." He pointed out he is constantly watching all his players, not just Reyes and noted it is "challenging" to determine what is going on in "guys' coconuts".
The manager had "no news" on the status on Jim Edmonds. The outfielder remains on the disabled list and is not on the trip.
Mark Mulder had his left shoulder heat-wrapped before the game as would be typical on a day he is not throwing. He said everything is going fine with his rehab. I took the opportunity to ask him about the recent blurb from Oakland's MLB.com beat reporter who said Mulder's rehab is not going well and he might miss the entire season. Mulder looked me in the eye and said, "I don't know where that came from. I haven't spoken with Mychal Urban in at least two years." Interesting…
Being from LA, Brendan Ryan had considered Paul Lo Duca his favorite Dodger. When I saw Ryan in the clubhouse, he was holding a new baseball that he wanted to get Lo Duca to sign. I told him to find a clubhouse boy and send him over to the Mets side. Better than a ball, Lo Duca returned a message that he would instead send an autographed bat over. Ryan was ecstatic, as he would now have signed items from his two favorites – Lo Duca and Super Joe McEwing.
Following the game, La Russa named Wainwright as his Friday starter, but had not yet decided with Dave Duncan who his other two weekend starters will be. The original plans for the Cincy series were Brad Thompson (Friday), Maroth (Saturday) and Looper (Sunday).
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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