The Cardinals Major Leauge Notebook 03/07

Joe Mather, who played mostly outfield in his rookie year in the major leagues, appears to have seized the third base job, albeit a temporary one, with veteran Troy Glaus recovering from right shoulder surgery in January.

Mather, a former minor league infielder, has been impressive in his instincts at third base, and his arm has been strong and true. Originally, it was presumed that David Freese, who had 26 homers and hit .306 at Class AAA Memphis last year, would have the inside track until the expected return of Glaus in May. But Freese suffered an Achilles tendon injury in a one-car accident in January and was unable to play any exhibitions in the first two weeks of camp.

Manager Tony La Russa said, "As soon as I heard about Glaus, I thought about Joe Mather."

And after watching Mather in the first exhibitions, La Russa, hoping that Freese wouldn't put too much pressure on himself to return quickly, said, "If all things were equal ... Joe would play third and David would go to Triple-A. Joe deserves a lot of credit for how he's working."

Mather perhaps surprised himself a bit in the field.

"I thought I would be a lot more uncomfortable, a lot more hesitant," he said.

Arizona State product Brett Wallace, the Cardinals' first-round pick in last year's draft, was thought to have an outside shot to contend for the third base spot with Glaus out. But La Russa has given Wallace very few at-bats, preferring to concentrate on those players who have a chance to make this year's club.

"He has to prove he can hit Triple-A pitching first," said La Russa of Wallace. "He's got some t's to cross and i's to dot, yet."

NOTES AND QUOTES

--The conversion of OF Skip Schumaker to a second baseman has been a halting one. Schumaker did not have many hard plays early on but backed up on a couple of balls in one game, muffing one and whiffing on the other. "Pitchers expect those balls to be outs, and so do I," Schumaker said. "So I have to get that down. It's a work in progress. I still have a lot more work to do to be the second baseman, that's for sure."

--After being talked to by manager Tony La Russa, young CF Colby Rasmus seemed to relax. La Russa's message was that Rasmus didn't have to muscle up to match the power of OFs Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick. "He's a line-drive, ground-ball hitter," La Russa said.

--OF Chris Duncan, who had surgery last August to repair a herniated cervical disk in his neck, appears to be cutting the bat loose as well as he ever has, or at least since 2006-07, when he had 43 homers in 655 at-bats. After Duncan had four hits and knocked in five runs against the Mets, manager Tony La Russa said, "The only issue was health. It wasn't his talent or his ability to compete. It's health. So far, he's doing great."

--1B Albert Pujols had four hits in his first nine spring at-bats, and he also had been walked seven times.

--RHP Chris Perez, the leading candidate to be the closer, seemed to be finding his form after some early problems. Following a side session in which pitching coach Dave Duncan worked with him, Perez had a perfect inning against the Dominican Republic team. "He kept his legs underneath him. He wasn't jumping out like he's been doing," Duncan said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Home runs hit by OF Brian Barton in a three-inning span against Florida. He had two in 153 major league at-bats last year.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "In my heart, I feel I'm a big-leaguer. I'm not thinking about (Class AAA) Memphis until I'm given the word that that may be the case." -- OF Brian Barton, fighting for a job.


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