Cardinals Major League Notebook: 03/07/10

The only major health issue currently in St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp remains the timing of Brendan Ryan's return from wrist surgery.



   It appears shortstop Brendan Ryan, who had right wrist surgery Feb. 9, will be able to play in exhibition games sometime around March 21. But manager Tony La Russa said that didn't necessarily mean he would be ready for the regular season two weeks after that.


   "Once he's strong and ready, he's got to take enough at-bats where he's got his timing," La Russa said. "He can't rush in there for four days and say, 'Hey, I'm ready.' And all of a sudden he hits .210."


   Ryan said he "can't imagine" not being ready to start the season.


   "I never saw myself not ready for opening day," Ryan said. "That's what I'm shooting for. But if there's a chance of risk, I'm not going to be stupid."


   While Ryan gradually is rounding into form, veteran Julio Lugo will see much of the time at shortstop, along with young Tyler Greene and veteran utility man Felipe Lopez. Ryan hit .292 and committed just nine errors in his first year as the regular shortstop.


   Lugo is a holdover from last season, acquired in a trade with Boston, with the Red Sox paying all but $400,000 of his $9 million salary. But the signing of Lopez might cut into Lugo's playing time, and he wasn't happy in Boston when he didn't play as much.


   "It doesn't change anything for me," Lugo said. "I just worry about myself and getting ready. They're the ones who make the decisions."


   Lugo hit .277 in 148 at-bats for the Cardinals last season.


   "I always play for 30 teams," Lugo said. "I'm on the Cardinals, but you never know what's going to happen. I'm going to enjoy myself, get ready and get a lot of hits."


   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.


   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.





   --It worked with 2B Skip Schumaker last spring, so the Cardinals are giving diminutive OF Shane Robinson some instruction as an infielder this spring under the tutelage of coach Jose Oquendo. "Got to add a little trick to my bag," said Robinson, 25. "I'm just trying to get the basics (of second base) down."


   --Manager Tony La Russa will assess several young players (Tyler Greene, Allen Craig, Joe Mather, Jon Jay, Nick Stavinoha) this spring, a couple of whom are likely to fill out his bench. "I'm hoping whoever is on our bench has an offensive and defensive value," La Russa said. "The people there should be there to come in in the middle of the game or start a game and you not have to cross your fingers."


   --LHP Sam Freeman, a promising reliever, will have to have Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Freeman felt pain in his left elbow when he tried to throw a changeup in a recent drill. He is likely to be out most, if not all, of the season.


   --RF Ryan Ludwick, who had a slow start to his spring last year, homered and doubled in his first exhibition game against the Mets. Ludwick, who hit .216 last spring, said, "It's better than last year, for sure. I felt like everything was where I needed to be at this point ... but it's early, though."


   --Rookie OF Allen Craig, the best minor league hitting prospect in camp, was slow off the mark because of a strained left quadriceps. With the cold weather in Florida, La Russa planned to keep Craig out for a while. "It's sore," La Russa said of Craig's leg. "No matter what the weather, you're not going to want to push it."


   BY THE NUMBERS: 24 -- Players the Cardinals signed to one-year contracts, concluding the negotiations with the 40-man roster.


   QUOTE TO NOTE: "I recognized this was going to be part of it. I knew people would have questions. I've tried my best to answer those questions." -- New Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire, discussing the attention created in camp by his recent steroids admission.





   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, and the Cardinals might have to bring in a veteran presence to compete with him. 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.



   1. RHP Chris Carpenter

   2. RHP Adam Wainwright

   3. RHP Kyle Lohse

   4. RHP Brad Penny

   5. RHP Kyle McClellan or LHP Rich Hill or LHP Jaime Garcia


   Penny, a free agent acquisition, replaces RHP Joel Pineiro, a 15-game winner who signed with the Angels. RHP Todd Wellemeyer had the most starts from the fifth spot last year, but he wasn't re-signed, so Hill, Garcia and perhaps RHP Kyle McClellan will contend for the fifth spot. No Cardinals lefty started a game last year, as Cy Young Award candidates Carpenter and Wainwright led an often-dominant, all-right-handed rotation.



   RHP Ryan Franklin (closer)

   RHP Jason Motte

   RHP Kyle McClellan

   RHP Blake Hawksworth

   RHP Mitchell Boggs

   LHP Trever Miller

   LHP Dennys Reyes


   Franklin had a stellar, 38-save season in his first full year as the closer, although he was wobbly at the end. The bullpen was one of the strengths of the division-championship club, and it is likely that it will return almost intact this season. McClellan might be moved into the rotation, if the need arises.



   1. 2B Skip Schumaker

   2. CF Colby Rasmus

   3. 1B Albert Pujols

   4. LF Matt Holliday

   5. RF Ryan Ludwick

   6. C Yadier Molina

   7. 3B David Freese

   8. SS Brendan Ryan


   The key lineup question for manager Tony La Russa is the No. 2 spot. Does he go for "damage," as he likes to put it, with CF Colby Rasmus, knowing that Rasmus, one of his best base stealers, isn't apt to run much in front of Pujols? Or does he go at Nos. 1-2 with Schumaker and Ryan, neither of whom hits for much power nor walks much, in front of Pujols and Holliday?



   C Jason LaRue

   INF Julio Lugo

   INF/OF Joe Mather

   INF Felipe Lopez

   OF Allen Craig


   The late-February signing of Lopez added some experience to the bench.


   Craig, who batted .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs at Class AAA Memphis, is an intriguing rookie. The 25-year-old was signed as an infielder but has been moved to the outfield, where he is not an accomplished defender. Still, next to the batter's box, the outfield appears to be his best position. Mather, a valuable extra man in 2008, had a terrible season (.176 at Class AAA Memphis and .209 at Class AA Springfield) in 2009 as he had continued trouble with a left hand on which he had surgery in 2008.


   TOP ROOKIES: David Freese, who came on strong late last season after recovering from a left ankle injury suffered in a January auto accident, will be given the first shot to win the third base job that belonged mostly to Mark DeRosa in the second half of last season. Freese was 7-for-12 in a late recall from Class AAA Memphis.


   LHP Jaime Garcia, a 23-year-old from Mexico, pitched effectively in the last month of the minor league season after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He is considered a candidate for the one remaining starting berth, although pitching coach Dave Duncan is hesitant about Garcia being able to pitch that many innings yet. Garcia never has worked more than 150 innings in a season.


   RHP Pete Parise had an outstanding Caribbean Series while pitching for Puerto Rico and he has an outside shot at a big-league relief job. Parise had eight saves, most of them late in the season, as he helped pitch Memphis to the Pacific Coast League championship last year.



   --1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) was fine at the start of spring training.


   --SS Brendan Ryan (right wrist surgery in February 2010) hopes to be healthy for the start of the regular season.


   --LHP Rich Hill (left shoulder surgery in August 2009) was throwing off a mound early in spring training.

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