Thursday March 5th, 2009

1) Lefties: take the field. I don't know how this happened to a team once managed by Whitey Herzog, who loved left-handed pitching, but something weird is going on in Cardinals camp: they might not have a single left-hander in their rotation or the back of their bullpen, but they could start an all-left-handed throwing outfield.

2) Their outfield is peculiar, to say the least. The outfield is really intriguing, now that Skip Schumaker is taking a crash course at second base. Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, two successful reclamation projects, are locks, and fellow lefty Colby Rasmus, the non-roster prospect, has a shot at joining them -- well, a long shot in all likelihood. Chris Duncan, Joe Mather and Brian Barton also are in the mix. Ankiel made that fascinating conversion from pitcher afflicted with "The Thing," to throwing yips no one ever completely shakes, to power-hitting outfielder. But hold on -- he was woefully ineffective against lefties (.224 with a .268 OBP) and hit .216 in his last 35 games. The jury continues to deliberate.

3) Welcome to Major Leagues 101. Cardinals camp has the feel of a college program. Guys move about from position to position; Schumaker actually looks athletic and fairly comfortable at second base; the 6-foot-4 Mather looks surprisingly good at third base, in addition to his outfield work; Duncan works some at first base and the outfield; and Brendan Ryan looks smooth at every infield position. St. Louis has one of the finest teaching staffs in baseball, and it shows with its confidence in moving players about different positions.

I have no idea how you can have a competition for the closer's job in spring training. Getting the last three outs in Jupiter against a gaggle of Marlins kids ticketed for Class A is nothing like working through the heart of the Cubs order in a one-run game at Wrigley Field. I don't believe the game results tell you much at all. Command, control, mound presence, pure stuff ... sure, you can see that. But it's like parachuting: you can't really approximate the real thing. That said, Jason Motte, who could battle Chris Perez for the job, has a live arm. The converted catcher has the closer's starter kit: overgrown facial hair, no windup, angry fastball. Think Eric Gagne, hopefully without the PEDs.

Actually, Troy Glaus is here, but who knows when he might play again. His surgically repaired shoulder isn't ready for baseball activities, so the Cardinals are likely to play a month or so of the season without him. That's bad timing for the fall of Troy. April is the best month in his career monthly splits.

I've never seen this in a camp before, but as groups of players made their way through hitting and fielding stations on various fields, one of the stops was simply a conversation with manager Tony LaRussa. Players, in groups of three or four, sat down on the grass off the third-base line of a back field and simply listened to LaRussa talk instructional baseball. Just another college-like moment in Cardinals camp.

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