While he wants to manage more like in the real season in his remaining games, La Russa knows he needs to balance that with the need to give pitchers work. "If a guy hasn't pitched in three days, he has to pitch."
How much work Dennys Reyes needs to get ready for the season "is a good question". "We want to get him out there and get him as many appearances as possible… The max will be an inning (per appearance)," Tony said.
The weekend schedule makes for some interesting travel plans. The Cardinals play Friday and Sunday in Ft. Myers with a home game in between on Saturday. The Cardinals have a unique plan.
The Friday squad to face the Boston Red Sox in Ft. Myers will include the nine to start the game plus eight reserves sourced from minor league camp.
The major leaguers remaining behind will play a 10:30 am nine-inning game Friday in what would be a camp day. Those guys will also play the Saturday game in Jupiter against Baltimore.
The Fort Myers group will stay there Friday night, work out on Saturday thanks to the Twins offering the use their complex and have the rest of the day off. The Jupiter group will come up to Fort Myers to start on Sunday, backed up by the players that first arrived on Friday.
La Russa likes this approach so the fans at all games will see major league lineups. Due to attending a wake, La Russa will miss the Thursday game and join the group in Ft. Myers. Joe Pettini and Mike Aldrete will stay and run the Saturday workout there while the rest of the coaches will go back and forth.
Tony was appreciative that general manager John Mozeliak would spring for the extra cost for the hotel rooms and likes the fact that his players will get more chances to play. He made the observation that the league assembles the schedule, but was not upset about it.
La Russa did not attribute Rick Ankiel bunting for a base hit the other day as something that indicates a change in his approach at the plate. Questions being asked were probing whether Ankiel might become more of a table setter. It seemed like the answer was no, with it more about left-handed power hitters needing to be able to bunt to help keep the defense honest. "You'll see Chris (Duncan) do it hopefully one of these days," Tony said.
On Ankiel, "The more he improves his average, everything improves – his power and his RBIs." La Russa says the centerfielder is working on improving his strike zone and is pleased with progress being shown in drills and games.
On players on the bubble finding it tougher to get playing time as camp winds down: "It is always a dilemma as some of the regulars get the majority of the playing time so the guys on the bubble supposedly are guys that played quite a bit the first two or three weeks and now they are coming off the bench more," La Russa explained.
Joe Mather will play Wednesday some. Plan is to get him in the camp game on Friday, start him Saturday at third base and in the outfield on Sunday against Kevin Slowey of the Twins.
David Freese is coming from zero so is getting a lot of extra work now. He did get work hitting even when he couldn't play. Freese has a "real good short stroke".
La Russa explained that he initiates talks with "significant" impending free agents, whether it is their first time to hit the market or even as a multiple time free agent. He makes sure they understand the needs of the team come first and playing time is earned. He noted that he thinks most players respond well to pressure but there are a few that get distracted.
The skipper went on to be quite philosophical on the day, talking about how great managers of the past like Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson and the like could still manage as outstandingly today as they did then.
Never let elements of old school philosophy go. Effort and execution were mentioned as examples of timeless values. Weights and video are a plus and there are some stats out there that are helpful that managers blend into their approach.
La Russa did acknowledge that being a major league skipper requires the need to adapt as the job is 75% managing people now vs. 25% before.
In closing, La Russa was asked if the best player in baseball could be a first baseman. Of course, he agreed, pointing out Rickey Henderson was it and he played left field.
Asked when the last time the best player in baseball was a first baseman, La Russa cracked, "Last year and the year before."
A great way to end an interview session!
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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