Hopefully, Eckstein will be playing the rest of the series as his wife, actress Ashley Drane, is in attendance this weekend. He has fewer responsibilities on and off the field as his recent charge, youngster Brendan Ryan, was sent down to Memphis as Eckstein was activated.
Eckstein and Jim Edmonds took early batting practice at about 3:45 P.M., as pitched by bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy. Reiterating earlier reports, La Russa said that Edmonds is "getting close". While he was taking full cuts, I didn't see the centerfielder really hitting the ball with authority yet.
It was great to see the familiar face of Cal Eldred, who has returned as a special coach over the weekend. The former Cardinals pitcher will rejoin the team when they return home. La Russa said "it is certainly possible" when I asked him if Cal might become a coach in the Cardinals system some day, but thinks it is still in the future as Eldred is enjoying spending time with his family.
I spoke with head trainer Barry Weinberg about Tyler Johnson. The lefty isn't throwing yet, with the hope he might be ready to start doing so when the club returns home. La Russa characterized him as "not close".
While not in Friday's lineup, utilityman Scott Spiezio's left finger, the one that put him in the hospital a few weeks ago, looks totally normal. La Russa says there are "no restrictions" on how he can be used.
La Russa had "nothing new" on Mark Mulder's status other than to say "he continues to progress".
Albert Pujols seemed glad to put the All-Star non-pinch hit appearance non-issue behind him. He was jovial enough to be whistling as he walked down the corridor to the clubhouse.
Starting on this, his 29th birthday, I asked Ryan Ludwick if there was anything different about playing centerfield in Citizens Bank Park. The American League and Minor League veteran reminded me that "I haven't ever played here. I am looking forward to it, though." He told me that a big difference in playing center is taking charge and communicating clearly with the other fielders.
Yadier Molina is exactly four years younger than Ludwick, celebrating his 25th birthday on Friday.
Not a big meeting guy, La Russa nonetheless held a team meeting before batting practice. The press was excluded from the clubhouse, but the likely focus was to set the tone for the second half.
4:30 Team Meeting
5:00 Batting practice – Wells
5:15 Bennett, Molina, Duncan
5:25 Spiezio, Kennedy, Miles
5:35 Encarnacion, Pujols, Rolen
5:45 Schumaker, Ludwick, Taguchi
Picking up right where he left off in San Francisco, Pujols blasted batting practice pitcher Dave McKay's first three offerings way out to left, much to the delight of the Phillies fans. Albert continued to slam balls out to center and the ones that didn't go out either landed on the track or shot off the wall. If that was any indication, look for Pujols to come out blazing in the second half. By the way, why MLB teams don't open the gates early enough to see both teams hit is a stupid, stupid practice that could easily be fixed.
Author Buzz Bissinger of "Three Nights in August" fame, breezed into the clubhouse before the game with some friends. Radio broadcaster John Rooney grabbed him for an interview. Listen for it on KTRS. Jay Randolph is with the team now, also.
I asked Buzz about plans for a "Three Nights" movie. He shook his head, saying "First we need a script. Then, it is the normal stuff to get a movie made. It is a long way off."
Rooney's regular partner Mike Shannon is not traveling with the Cards and word is that he may not be on the road with them for the remainder of the season due to a serious family illness. A short prayer for the Shannon clan would certainly be in order. It's the least we can do for someone who has entertained us so well for so long, isn't it?
No one is saying more than "stiffness and a little swelling" about Chris Carpenter's elbow – at least until after he sees doctors. But, even a minor setback would knock him off his throwing program and seemingly nix any July return. And, the options would seem to go downhill from there. There is no exact news when he felt the discomfort, but I admit that I was puzzled when seeing Carp only threw 39 pitches in his second rehab start last Sunday after tossing 32 the first time out and 34 in his final simulated game. The plan was to build him up to 80 in about four starts, but the trend didn't line up. Even if the setback is minor, he would seemingly have to start all over again.
Not surprisingly, the losing Cardinals players ate and dressed quietly. Tom Izzo, Michigan State hoops coach, was waiting for La Russa in his office after the game.
In his post-game remarks, an irritated La Russa states the obvious that Wells was "not good", "set a bad tempo for us" and "didn't pitch well", refuses to look ahead as to Wells' future and bristles when asked about Pujols "getting off the schneid" by his home run.
The team bus was scheduled to return to the hotel at 11:20 P.M. and with that ended a most disappointing Friday as the Cards absorbed a 13-3 whipping.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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