The Redbird Report 03/31

Without shortstop David Eckstein, one of the Cardinals' primary missions this spring training was to find a top-of-the-lineup man. They think they have found him in perennial fourth or fifth outfielder Skip Schumaker, who hit .394 this spring.

Schumaker, who has led off much of his minor league career, has made the Cardinals' varsity for three straight years but has wound up spending much of his time at Class AAA Memphis during the season. But his fast finish last year, when he ended his big-league season with a .333 average, and his consistency from Day One of the exhibition season, won him an everyday job.

"He had an outstanding spring, in every way there is to measure," manager Tony La Russa said.

"The whole key (to the lineup) is that Skip has set up in the leadoff spot. I haven't had to mess around with different combinations because he's really come in and taken charge of that position."

Schumaker said, "(Leadoff) is where I'm most comfortable. I've been there my whole career since high school. I'm not foreign to it."

This spring, Schumaker led the Cardinals with 17 runs and 28 hits.

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.


--RHP Anthony Reyes, who pitched six scoreless innings in his last spring start, was kept on the Opening Day roster, but he didn't crack the rotation. Reyes will open the season as one of the club's long relievers, along with rookie RH reliever Kyle McClellan, a St. Louis native who has risen from Class AA.

--After 11 seasons in the minor leagues, INF Rico Washington has made it to the big leagues. He will be the second extra infielder on the team while Brendan Ryan heals from a ribcage strain. "They say good things come to people who wait," said Washington, 29. "Well, I've been waiting a long time."

--RHP Joel Pineiro continues on the comeback trail. Pineiro, who has had some shoulder inflammation, threw 50 pitches in a minor league game Saturday. Barring complications, he should rejoin the team before the end of April.

--RHP Kelvin Jimenez, a part of the Cardinals bullpen at various times last year, was the last pitcher optioned to Class AAA Memphis. Jimenez was 3-0 but had a 7.50 ERA last year.

--Wednesday's second game of the season against Colorado will be the first non-sellout at new Busch Stadium after every game the first two seasons and Opening Day this year were sold out.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Triples the Cardinals had in spring training, just two shy of their total for all of last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "All I know is they are winning players." -- Manager Tony La Russa, on his new left side of the infield, 3B Troy Glaus and SS Cesar Izturis, who will be replacing fan favorites Scott Rolen and David Eckstein.

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