March 12, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) There's a crowd of candidates to play first base for the St. Louis Cardinals. More than enough that budding star Stephen Piscotty can concentrate on mastering right field.

Earlier this week, manager Mike Matheny said getting Piscotty work at first base was ''not a huge priority.''

''Right now I just don't see it as being the best use of his time,'' Matheny said. ''Things change and I know he's done enough work to do whatever we ask.''

The 25-year-old Piscotty arrived at spring training preparing for both spots, but he's fine with the plan. The NL Central champions need his bat, wherever they put him.

''I'm still preparing to do whatever they need and whenever I get the opportunity to take some ground balls I will, but if I had to make a choice between the two, it would be the outfield,'' Piscotty said. ''I like parts of both, but my skills fit better in the outfield.''

Keeping an open mind is a positive. Versatility increases value beyond the potent bat.

''We believe he can be a plus defender in the outfield, and I don't think he's the kind of kid that it's going to bother him,'' said Matheny, adding that he didn't think Piscotty would blink if asked to try third base, either.

Piscotty escaped serious injury when he was hit above the left elbow by a pitch Saturday at Port St. Lucie by the Mets reliever Stolmy Pimentel. A friend drove him back to Jupiter for tests, and he said afterward he had ''pretty good strength'' in the left hand.

Piscotty was listed for the trip to Viera on Sunday to face the Nationals.

''I stand kind of close to the plate so he might have been trying to throw a fastball in and got me,'' he said. ''It's just swollen, no bruising yet, we'll see in the morning.''

Piscotty belongs somewhere near the top of the order after his impressive breakout season, which was capped by three homers and six RBIs - one setting a franchise rookie record mark and the second tying the record - in the NL Division Series loss to the Chicago Cubs. The production wasn't a total surprise: He batted .305 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 63 games after getting his first call-up from the minors.

Brandon Moss, Matt Adams and Matt Holliday have all been getting work at first base this spring. The team signaled its commitment to Moss with an $8.25 million deal, while Adams appears ready for a rebound from a hip injury and Holliday is a wild card, attempting to make himself more bankable in the final year of his contract.

Piscotty is off to a nice start despite a bout of illness early in camp, either from food poisoning or a stomach virus that set him back three days. He was batting .429 with a double and three RBIs in his first six spring games through Friday and is close to regaining all the weight he lost.

''My main focus the last two weeks has been on getting healthy and adding strength,'' he said. ''I feel good now.''

Injuries in the outfield, with both Holliday and Randal Grichuk missing considerable time, gave Piscotty a shot in the majors in mid-July. He never let go, punctuating his debut season with two-run homers in each of the last two division series games.

''I just kind of ran with it from there,'' Piscotty said. ''It was just a lot of fun, and you learn so much about yourself.''

Among the lessons learned from his first experience: savor the positives from each day, perhaps a nice catch, instead of dwelling on going 0 for 4.

''When you take off as a player you're not worried about yourself,'' Piscotty said. ''If you're in a setting where it's about winning, you can feel incredible about your day, and then you have confidence going into the next day.''

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