The Redbird Report 03/24

Manager Tony La Russa, the third-winningest manager of all time, will be put to the test early this season. His club is short in the rotation until some of its injured arms come back, and he somehow will have to find a way to shield what was a mediocre defense for much of spring training.

The Cardinals finished second from the bottom in fielding percentage last season, and that was with longtime Gold Glovers Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds on the club. Third baseman Rolen has gone to Toronto and center fielder Edmonds to San Diego, replaced by Troy Glaus and Rick Ankiel, respectively.

Glaus had a strong spring at bat and is expected to provide the home run power that Rolen's injured left shoulder didn't allow him to display last year. But neither he nor nearly anybody else is Rolen defensively.

Ankiel indicated he should be above average in center field, a position he didn't play much last year after coming up. Ankiel showed La Russa enough this spring that the manager probably will bat him cleanup.

This, in itself, is quite a statement for a player who was a pitcher for years and nearly quit the game in 2004 before being asked if he wanted to convert to the outfield.

Cesar Izturis, signed to replaced David Eckstein at shortstop, raised some red flags this spring when he committed seven errors at the same time he had only seven hits. Yet La Russa and his staff remain confident, outwardly at least, that Izturis can make the routine plays and more. Izturis began showing his old defensive flash late in spring training.

But, as with most teams, the Cardinals will be as good as their starting pitching, and that was a weighty question as camp ended. Right-hander Adam Wainwright, the ace who got a contract extension of at least four years, is in place after his 14-win season as a first-year starter. But, after that come right-hander Braden Looper, who was both good and bad in Grapefruit League action, and right-hander Kyle Lohse, who was signed midway through spring training.

Right-hander Anthony Reyes, a pitcher who has held considerable promise, was given another chance to win a job this spring but didn't seem to overwhelm La Russa or pitching coach Dave Duncan. His days as a Cardinal may be numbered.

The bullpen is deep from the right-handed side, headed by Jason Isringhausen, and the bench is adequate. But, with a shallow rotation -- at least until injured pitchers Joel Pineiro, Matt Clement, Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter return -- the Cardinals probably should be picked no higher than third this season.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: CF Rick Ankiel blasted 43 home runs (32 at Class AAA Memphis) last year, although he struck out a total of 131 times. His plate discipline seemed much improved this spring, and he'll have plenty of chances to drive in runs while hitting fourth behind Albert Pujols.

ON THE DECLINE: OF Chris Duncan, who had hernia surgery last year, battled back problems this spring and hit under .100 for much of the exhibition season. His defense also is marginal at best.


--OF Juan Gonzalez is still in camp, trying to heal an abdominal strain. Gonzalez, who played one nine-inning game in the field before having to go into dry dock, said, "They say, 'Don't hit. Don't hit run. Don't do anything.' It's hard."

--RHP Kyle Lohse worked five innings Saturday, giving up two runs and six hits in his first exhibition start. Pitching coach Dave Duncan said he was surprised how much command Lohse had of most of his pitches, considering he had been in camp only two weeks.

--RHP Kyle McClellan was making a bid to jump from Class AA to a spot in the Cardinals' bullpen. He had a 1.64 ERA for his first 11 innings this spring, including striking out Mets CF Carlos Beltran in a key spot on Sunday.

"What I wanted to do coming into spring was to do well and catch some attention," he said. "I've done that. Now, once you get that attention, you keep going. You don't want to be a guy who catches it for a little while and then it's gone."

--The Cardinals, defensively challenged much of the spring, played by far their best game of the spring Sunday, making six outstanding plays, including four by much maligned SS Cesar Izturis. Izturis short-hopped three smashes and then made a brilliant play on a high bounder over 3B Aaron Miles' head to get Luis Castillo in the first inning.

"(Izturis) put on a show," manager Tony La Russa said. "That was a very special performance."

--The Cardinals completed a 5-0 run against the Mets this spring with their 14-4 win Sunday.

"I'd rather have their record," La Russa said. The Cardinals were 13-10-2 this spring, and the Mets were 16-3-1 except when they've played the Cardinals.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Homers 1B Albert Pujols had in spring training with a week to go.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not out there feeling for it." -- LHP Mark Mulder, after facing hitters for the first time this spring. He has been fighting to recapture his delivery since before the first of two shoulder surgeries.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories