Cardinals short bench cut in half

The St. Louis Cardinals’ already-short bench has reached a critical stage.

Infielder Brendan Ryan, in the midst of an impressive defensive series in Atlanta, had to leave Wednesday evening’s rubber match against the Atlanta Braves with what was characterized as left hamstring tightness.

The 27-year-old was injured in the fifth inning when running down the first base line after what turned out to be a foul ball. Brian Barden finished the at-bat for Ryan and took over defensively at shortstop. More information about the severity of Ryan’s injury should be made available on Thursday.

Part of the reason for Ryan’s opportunity was that regular starting shortstop Khalil Greene was out of the lineup with a sore right forearm. The veteran, in his first season with St. Louis, is expected to miss a few days.

With the club carrying 13 pitchers, the available bench of position players shrinks from an already-short four down to an unworkable two because of the pair of wounded infielders. The ready reserves are catcher Jason LaRue, always saved for emergency purposes, and the fourth outfielder, who on Wednesday evening was Ryan Ludwick.

If either injury is expected to linger more than one or two days, the club may need to call on Triple-A Memphis for help. Even if neither player is hurt enough to hit the disabled list, a pitcher could be sent down to make room for a position player.

If they go this route, the most likely hurler to be sent out is rookie P.J. Walters, who was given just one start before yielding the turn to Mitchell Boggs. Boggs was impressive in his first start against Chicago and is the scheduled starter in Washington on Thursday.

Another possibility would be to wait until Boggs completes his outing and option him out, despite how well or poorly he performs. Without an injury elsewhere, any player sent down would be required to remain there for at least ten days.

The 2009 Memphis club is off to a very poor start offensively. Their team batting average of .222 is tied for worst in the 16-team Pacific Coast League, while their OBP (.310) and slugging (.315) are dead last. They are last in runs scored with ten fewer than the 15th-best club and a whopping 50 behind league-leader Omaha (72 to 122, each in 19 games).

Still, there are a few offensive standouts on the Redbirds who could be considered candidates for a call up.

Shortstop Tyler Greene has been an underachiever in past years, but received positive reviews in spring training. He is already on the club’s 40-man roster and can play all over the infield. Greene’s current slash stats are .296/.412/.423 with Memphis. The right-handed hitter leads the Redbirds in both strikeouts with 17 and walks with 12.

A longer shot would be corner infielder Allen Craig, who blistered the ball in Florida. He is second on the club in batting (.313), slugging (.453) and OPS (.842). Craig also can play some outfield but is not on the 40-man.

Then there is banished David Freese, who made the big league team out of spring training, but didn’t produce offensively. The third baseman has been struggling through his first 27 Triple-A at-bats this season with a line of .148/.179/.185.

Another option could be to return to a more traditional roster make up with a fifth outfielder. While Joe Mather has a place on the 40-man, he is not hitting well with a .123 average.

Shane Robinson is the Redbirds’ leading hitter across the board this season to date with a .375/.434/.479 line but had not even been invited to major league spring camp. Based on the last three weeks of play, he seems deserving of a chance, but would have to be added to the 40-man first.

Jon Jay may have been the most impressive non-roster outfielder in spring camp other than Colby Rasmus, but he hasn’t carried it over to the regular season. His stat line is .208/.275/.222 and he has fanned 12 times with just five walks in 72 at-bats.

The path of least resistance in the outfield may be Nick Stavinoha. With MLB experience last season, the right-handed hitter’s current line is .246/.359/.385. Stavinoha is the primary run-producer as the only player on the Memphis club to have reached double digits in RBI at 15.