Cardinals Major League Notebook: 02/27/10

The only health issue currently in St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp is the timing of the healing of Brendan Ryan's wrist.



   Shortstop Brendan Ryan, upon arriving in camp, said that he "absolutely" would be ready for opening day on April 5 after having had surgery on Feb. 9 to alleviate chronic inflammation in his right wrist, a condition that had afflicted Ryan since he was a California high schooler.


   For the most part, cortisone shots had alleviated the pain for Ryan, but finally in late January, Ryan found the discomfort more intolerable, and he underwent surgery performed by a California hand specialist, Steven Shin. The organization was not entirely happy with the timing of Ryan's surgery, and Ryan agreed, to a point.


   "I was going to be very up front," Ryan said. "I don't think anyone, including myself, is very excited about the timing of this thing. But there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about this and that they found something in there.


   "When we were talking only (being out) a few weeks, I think the risk was worth the reward. The timeline was never really going to change whether he found something in there or not. I had to weigh everything in a very short amount of time.


   "Realistically, there was a shot (Shin) went in there and found nothing. At least we could move forward from that. In my mind, I could justify it several ways. It was a win-win."


   There was no fault on anyone's part, said Ryan, who hit .292 and made just nine errors in his first year as a regular in 2009.


   "It's not like anyone mishandled or misdiagnosed anything. We did all the steps," Ryan said. "There's nothing to regret that way. The only thing left was to get a good look in there."


   Until Ryan returns, veteran Julio Lugo and young Tyler Greene will get most of the spring work at shortstop.


   WHERE: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. The Cardinals have been there since 1998, but there have been changes all around. With the Orioles moving to Sarasota, Fla., and the Dodgers previously going to Arizona, the Cardinals have only the Marlins (who share a complex with the Cardinals in Jupiter) and the Mets as opponents any closer than two hours away.


   TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: INF/OF Joe Mather, if his troublesome left hand has healed, could provide depth at several positions. Mather displayed power, speed and defensive ability in 2008 before getting hurt. After briefly holding the Cardinals' third base job last spring, Mather had a lost 2009 season at Class AAA Memphis and Class AA Springfield.


   TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP Ryan Franklin had a splendid 2009 season as the Cardinals' closer and made his first All-Star team, but he weakened down the stretch, causing some offseason doubt in his ability to replicate his 38-save season.


   AUTHORITY FIGURES: Tony La Russa returns for his 15th season as Cardinals manager, having won 1,232 games in St. Louis and 2,552 games overall, which is third on the all-time list. The 65-year-old La Russa, for the first time with the Cardinals, has only a one-year contract, fueling speculation that this might be his last season on the field. The coaching staff returns intact with the notable exception of former Cardinals star Mark McGwire replacing Hal McRae as the hitting coach.





   --With 1B Albert Pujols locked in as the club's No. 3 hitter, LF Matt Holliday at No. 4 and RF Ryan Ludwick most often at No. 5, manager Tony La Russa has a measure of stability in his lineup rarely seen in his St. Louis teams in the last half-dozen years. "My favorite thing is to have a core five or six guys, and you play around with the other two to keep your bench going," said La Russa, who led the majors in number of lineups used last season.


   --Pujols, who has a year left on a seven-year, $100 million contract and then a club option for 2011, isn't interested in discussing his next pact.


   "It's been the talk the last three years, and it's getting to the point where it's irritating to talk about my contract," Pujols said. "I'm so sick and tired of everyone talking and writing about my contract all the time. Whenever they're ready, we're ready. Whenever I'm ready, I'm ready. I can't control that. ... It's why I have my agent. Things are going to work out. Don't get me going."


   --2B Skip Schumaker still takes extra work at his position in his second year there as a regular, but nothing like the exhausting days he had last spring when he had to learn the position from ground zero after being an outfielder his entire pro career.


   "I don't want to go backward," Schumaker said. "The more games you play, the better instincts you get with the ball off the bat. It's just like anything. The more pitches you see, the better you feel in the box. The more groundballs you see in a game, the better you're going to feel at second."


   --Similar to his manager Tony La Russa, who is on a one-year deal in Year 15 at the Cardinals' helm, GM John Mozeliak's three-year contract will expire after the season. But there is every reason to believe Mozeliak will be back. "I think he's done an excellent job," chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., said. "He came into a situation where he followed a popular GM (Walt Jocketty) who had helped bring about a lot of success. He's gotten the confidence of ownership and those who work for him."


   --RHP Shelby Miller, a 2009 first-round draft choice in big-league camp at age 19, threw his first bullpen session in front of many interested observers, including longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, who hadn't seen Miller work before. Duncan, who doesn't praise indiscriminately, said, "(Miller) has got a nice delivery. Really solid. I was impressed with his command, the life of the ball, and he threw some good changeups. His breaking ball was a little bit erratic, but you could see the rotation and good spin."


   BY THE NUMBERS: .284 -- Average compiled by CF Colby Rasmus when he hit second in the order last year as a rookie. Rasmus' overall mark was .251.


   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't ever plan on seeing him again." -- Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire, on younger brother Jay, after the latter McGwire's release of a book detailing his brother's use of performance-enhancing drugs introduced to him by Jay McGwire.





   After winning their first division title in three seasons, the Cardinals really had only one real offseason mission -- to re-sign LF Matt Holliday. This they did at a cost of $120 million for seven years. Their only other player-personnel move of consequence was to sign RHP Brad Penny to replace departed RHP Joel Pineiro in the rotation. They also made one prominent coaching change, hiring former slugger Mark McGwire to replace Hal McRae as the hitting coach.


   ARRIVALS: RHP Brad Penny (free agent from Giants), LHP Rich Hill (minor league free agent from Orioles), INF Ruben Gotay (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks), INF Felipe Lopez (free agent from Brewers).


   DEPARTURES: RHP Brad Thompson (released, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Joe Thurston (free agent, signed minor league deal with Braves), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent, signed with Braves), INF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Giants), INF Khalil Greene (free agent, signed with Rangers), OF Rick Ankiel (free agent, signed with Royals), RHP Joel Pineiro (free agent, signed with Angels), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), RHP John Smoltz (free agent, unsigned).


   SPRING FOCUS: Having re-signed LF Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' lineup should be in good shape for another run at the World Series. 3B David Freese, a rookie, is the only real unknown in the equation. A fifth starter is needed, as well as bench help, specifically from the left side. Much of the focus will be on new hitting coach Mark McGwire as he returns to baseball after eight seasons out of the game and amid commentary about his use of performance-enhancement drugs when he played.

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