The Cardinals Major League Notebook 02/21

With Chris Carpenter, the longtime staff ace, proceeding smoothly as he tries to overcome his arm issues of the last two years, manager Tony La Russa has established his five-man rotation for spring training games: right-handers Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro.

But La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan said Kyle McClellan and Brad Thompson will work as starters through the first half of spring training, and possibly beyond. Duncan has McClellan scheduled for at least two exhibition-game starts in March as insurance in case Carpenter's progress slows or somebody falters. "They told me to come in almost game-ready," McClellan said. "I feel like I'm ahead of schedule. That was on purpose. I'm trying to win a job."

Carpenter, four months removed from nerve transposition surgery near his right elbow, impressed all on-lookers with his first five bullpen throwing sessions.

"He's at the point where he's upset if he doesn't paint," Duncan said. Carpenter was slated to start the club's fourth exhibition game, against Washington.

WHERE, WHEN: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. First exhibition game is Feb. 25 against the Marlins.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: OF Chris Duncan is coming back from injury and can't be forgotten. If Duncan is healthy -- he had disk surgery in his neck -- he might be able to recapture his power of 2006 and 2007, when he hit 22 and 21 homers as a part-time player.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: OF Ryan Ludwick set the bar high last season when he hit .299 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs in his first season as a regular. If he hits .280 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs, is that necessarily a bad season?

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Tony La Russa, in his 14th season with the club, is the Cardinals' top manager in wins at 1,141 and No. 3 in baseball history at 2,461. His Cardinals teams invariably reflect his no-nonsense, grind-it-out style, and he has little use for players who don't have that attitude. At this stage, every year could be his last year with the Cardinals.

NOTES AND QUOTES

--CF Colby Rasmus, the top prospect in the system, might hit ninth for the Cardinals, behind the pitcher -- "if he's in the starting lineup," manager Tony La Russa said. It appears regardless of whether Skip Schumaker starts at center field or second base, he will hit first.

--3B Troy Glaus is not close to resuming baseball-related activities nearly five weeks after surgery to repair a damaged muscle near his right shoulder. He remains more than a month from appearing in a Grapefruit League game. Club officials had set Glaus' possible return to regular-season action at mid- to late April, but Glaus described the timetable for his return as "kind of vague."

--OF Chris Duncan, who has a new titanium disk in his neck, is swinging the bat full-bore as he seeks to recover his platoon part of the left field job.

"He has done it at the big-league level at clutch, prime time," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's why you have to factor him in as a big plus for this year."

--Like OF Rick Ankiel, OF Ryan Ludwick didn't have to enter an arbitration hearing. He and the club settled past the midpoint at $3.7 million for his 2009 salary.

--Longtime Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen, who became a free agent after having late-season flexor tendon surgery last year, signed a minor league deal with the Rays.

"My elbow doesn't hurt all. I'm good to go," Isringhausen said recently.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- 1B Albert Pujols was one of four major-leaguers to have walked 100 times last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I didn't know what was wrong for a while. I knew my neck hurt." -- OF Chris Duncan, who is believed to be the first player to have a titanium disk inserted in his neck to relieve discomfort from a herniated disk.


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