Coming into the break, in other words even before Wells' dismal Friday performance, the Cardinals starters in aggregate were last in the NL in wins (22), win percentage (.355), ERA (5.31) and second to last in strikeouts (269). Making the Washington staff look good takes some doing, but the Cards have done it.
As has been the custom in recent days, at 1:00 P.M., the sore-backed pair, David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds, came onto the still-empty field. Edmonds took numerous vigorous practice swings with a bat before doing stretching while sitting on the ground while Eckstein ran back and forth up and down the third baseline, sometimes sideways, sometimes twisting and other times backward. Under the eye of Jose Oquendo, the two began throwing, gradually increasing the distance. ESPN's Peter Gammons was also watching nearby. Oquendo hit grounders to Eckstein, who threw to coach Joe Pettini playing at first, then second base. All systems are a "go" for the shortstop, who is in the Saturday lineup.
Weather-wise, it is a completely beautiful day. Low 80s and sunny, with only a very light breeze.
With it being Photo Day in Philly, there is no batting practice. As a result, there is even longer for the players to wait with little to do prior to the 3:55 P.M. Eastern time start on FOX. However, the position players took ten-minute shots in the cages, two at a time starting at 2:00 through 3:10. The 13 active position players plus Edmonds took part.
A Chris Carpenter update. The ace is experiencing soreness but no pain with swelling around the area. The "no pain" is apparently considered very important. Only until he goes through a battery of tests with different doctors will it be decided if and when he can begin throwing again. I was encouraged not to be concerned at this point as this is pretty common for his type of surgery. At least one setback was expected despite when his rehab began. Tony La Russa said Carp was being examined "while we speak" and expected more info by the end of the weekend.
Two and a half hours before the game, a solitary Eckstein was walking the hallways to keep loose. He reminded me that is not unlike a regular game between batting practice and the game itself. He definitely seems pumped to be able to play again. La Russa said simply, "we missed him". He expects Eckstein to also play 2-of-3 in Florida. Game one would seem to be the logical one for him to take off.
At about 1:30 P.M., a playful Albert Pujols gave equipment manager Rip Rowan grief as he could not find his pine tar rag. Albert was going off for some early, extra BP. La Russa attached zero significance to Pujols Home Run Derby appearance, saying his batting practices are "consistent". The manager acknowledged that Pujols may not have been shown the pitch he pummeled out of the park Friday night had the game been close. In a game that La Russa noted "didn't have many positives", Pujols' home run was one.
In a call to action for his offense, the manager said "we need to get guys on base in front of and behind" Pujols. He even cracked a joke that he might have to return to the "old experiment of the pitcher batting eighth". While some positives about Adam Wainwright's hitting prowess were shared, fortunately, it was considered a joke.
Despite Todd Wellemeyer having been injured last Sunday, his replacement, Andy Cavazos, was not called upon until Wednesday night. He had to move fast to get to Philadelphia for the weekend. Fortunately, his Memphis roommate, Brian Esposito (once) and he (twice) have not been called up to St. Louis at the same time this season, though I suppose the two would love to have the problem of needing a house sitter.
La Russa was fine about having to use Brad Thompson in relief on Friday night, saying "it probably sets him up better" to take his next start in Florida on Tuesday.
The skipper reiterated he plans to start Kip Wells on Wednesday, calling Friday "one of those days" where everything snowballed for his team. He was not ready to talk about the return of Anthony Reyes, saying "he needs to make the most of his opportunities to pitch without everything that goes with the Major Leagues". La Russa did point to a day-night double-header coming up two weeks from today (July 28 vs. Milwaukee) as a possibility.
La Russa sees this season similar to others in that "everyone is looking for pitching" and "it isn't like there are five Carpenters out there" available on the trade market. The home Phillies were cited as an example of one of the many teams looking.
I asked La Russa what he told the team in his second-half meeting on Friday. Other than the normal remarks, what stood out to me was his "pat on the back for hanging in there" message to his team.
Chris Duncan is in the lineup against lefty Cole Hamels, hitting seventh. La Russa said he thinks that with more experience, Duncan "is not going to be a guy you are going to have to platoon". Duncan didn't start against Hamels in St. Louis, at least partially attributed by La Russa to the fact it was a "rain game".
Ryan Ludwick being "average" in centerfield is "OK" with La Russa. He said Ludwick is doing an average job, average reads, a strong arm, covers a lot of ground with good speed in center.
After La Russa repeated his daily "Mulder continues to progress" line, he then snapped an emphatic "no" before I could even get the entire follow-up question out of my mouth. It was, "Do you have any idea when Mulder might progress far enough to start a rehab assignment?" I might read that as "September at best", but hey, that just may be me…
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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