Center fielder Colby Rasmus was perhaps the Cardinals' best player in spring training this year, and the second-year major-leaguer carried that into the season opener, hitting a home run, saving a home run with a spectacular catch and driving in two runs.
In his rookie season, Rasmus labored to a .251 finish with 16 home runs and only 52 RBIs and was worn down by stomach problems and just plain anxiety as he admittedly didn't feel comfortable amid so many veterans. But after hitting safely in all three postseason games for the Cardinals, the 23-year-old took whatever confidence he gained from that experience, and he looked totally different and relaxed this spring.
Not that he was too relaxed, though. Manager Tony La Russa said, "He could have come in and looked around and not seen as much competition and got a little careless. Instead, he's really, really trying to be as good a player as he can be. This spring, and one game into the season, he's improving."
Rasmus said, "Last year, you wanted to impress and show that you're working hard. This year, I feel like I'm working smart."
The veterans know what the Cardinals have on their hands.
"The kid is unbelievable," backup catcher Jason LaRue said. "His talent is off the charts, and you're going to see an even better Colby this year because he's coming into his own.
"He knows how long the big-league season is. He's become a smarter hitter."
--RHP Adam Wainwright, the top winner in the National League last year at 19, will face the Reds at Cincinnati on Wednesday. Wainwright was 10-2 against Central Division foes last year, and RHP Chris Carpenter, who won Monday, was 11-0.
--RHP Chris Carpenter found out on
Opening Day what former Cardinals RHP John Smoltz had encountered in the final
road series of last season -- that the balls at
"(The Reds') guys that pitch with them all of the time might be used to it," said Carpenter. "But the worst thing that could happen is you're throwing cue balls up there and something gets away and of one of their guys gets hurt. I've never, ever in my career had baseballs like these baseballs that are here."
--1B Albert Pujols was the first Cardinals player to have four hits on Opening Day since INF Aaron Miles in 2006. With two homers, he has 368 for his career and should be on target for 400 by about Labor Day, if not before.
--RHP Blake Hawksworth, who suffered a strained right groin with about 10 days to go in spring training, was held out of Monday's game but should be available for an inning or so of relief on Wednesday.
--LHP Jaime Garcia, a rookie, will
make his season debut as a starter on Sunday night in
BY THE NUMBERS: 30 -- RHP Jason Motte's new number after he had worn No. 60 in his first two seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope my hitters
didn't watch that exhibition." -- Hitting coach Mark McGwire after he had taken
batting practice, a poor one, he thought, on the final day of spring training in
--RHP Blake Hawksworth (sore groin) pitched one inning in the Cardinals' final exhibition game after missing a week.
--C Yadier Molina (strained right oblique) was injured with 10 days left in spring training, but he started on Opening Day.