Cardinals Washington Whispers – 05/01/09

Sadly, I am running on a borrowed laptop donated very temporarily by an amazingly nice press box compatriot so this may be it in terms of updates this weekend. We shall have to see. However I did have an interesting and productive afternoon speaking with Cardinals players and coaches. I am especially happy to share it with you.

I spoke with P.J. Walters about his successful ninth-inning stint on Thursday. He and Ryan Franklin warmed up with Walters coming in since it is a non-save situation. P.J. says he can warm up quickly and can pitch on consecutive days as he did with State College back in 2006. Yet he is the only reliever shown as not available on Tony La Russa’s Friday lineup card.

Speaking of Franklin, La Russa finally broke down and admitted what we all could see. “At this point, he is the closer…. He was always the guy,” pronounced the skipper.

Spoke with Walters and Jason Motte about eyeglasses. Jason wears his trademark prescription specs on the mound and likes them because he can see all angles. P.J. had LASIK surgery two years ago and is very pleased with it, noting he experienced immediate improvement. Motte said he considered the procedure only for “a split second”. I may be a wimp, but I agree with him.

La Russa had penciled Jason LaRue into the lineup initially because catcher Yadier Molina “had a tough night, threw up” on Thursday. Yet when Yadi reported to the park, he told the skipper he was ok to go.

Thursday night’s home plate ump Jim Reynolds was not as fortunate. Beaned by a Blaine Boyer warmup pitch, he was unable to answer the bell on Friday. Substitute umpire Kevin Causey took over at third.

La Russa noted that his team’s fast start “has to do with what the players put in during spring training“ both in terms of drills and game experience.

TLR on Todd Wellemeyer (pre-game): Not as sharp as he can be. Will get better and better as he goes on.

TLR on Rick Ankiel: Once he is sharp, he is a potent bat. Started out ok but not surging as well as Ryan or Chris. He can be a number four hitter in MLB. Last three game key hits means he gets another start. Really been overtrying. When he relaxes more, he has better focus.

TLR on Khalil Greene: Emergency player in the field only for the remainder of this series. Injury to throwing arm, but no consideration of DL because he is pretty good pinch-hitter.

Khalil spoke about the role of being a pinch-hitter actually requires him to concentrate more over the details of the game from the bench than when he is actually playing. He watches the status of the pitchers on both sides so he is not surprised when he is given the heads-up to get ready. When he is in the game, he is less focused on the opposing pitcher, since he figures he will be hitting either way.

As a result, Tyler Greene is again getting the start in day two of his MLB career. Having been a little busy, he was unaware of the other shortstop moves in the system resulting from his promotion. Tyler concurred that the Double-A step Pete Kozma is making is the toughest due to better control and fewer mistakes by pitchers at that level.

K. Greene told me that in his first impression, he likes the new ballpark in DC. He was injured when the Padres traveled there last season and was not with the team. Khalil also liked the hitting background in the old RFK Stadium despite its large dimensions.

TLR on playing Joe Thurston vs. Brian Barden at third: Jokingly flipped an imaginary coin. Seriously, he mentioned he looks at how the opposing pitchers perform against right-handed batters (like Barden) and left-handed (Thurston). Both will continue to play a lot. Need extra pen man with 35 games in 36 days to start season.

TLR on his emergency catcher: “Probably one of the young, aggressive guys, maybe Thurston.” He said a definitive “no” when I jokingly suggested former catcher Motte.

Thursday’s winning pitcher Chris Perez says his heel still is giving him no problems at all, but expects his spring training shot will wear off soon. When he feels pain again, the plan is to do the injection on an off day.

On all the televisions in the clubhouse was the Marlins-Cubs game. I happened to catch Denise Richards do such a terrible rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” that it made Ozzy seem good.

A team official noted the club has sold about 29,000 full and partial season tickets, which was kept flat by the added attraction of the 2009 All-Star Game. As noted elsewhere, the higher revenue premium tickets and corporate spending are down.

Mitchell Boggs was not surprised by his nine strikeouts Friday as he noted the Nationals are an aggressive team. He was surprised when I told him that he took over the 2009 team single-game lead from Walters, who had seven against the Cubs. Mitchell noted that he expects Adam Wainwright to claim the lead sometime very soon.

Albert Pujols mentioned his wife Deidre is heading to the Dominican Republic later this month to deliver the rest of the 200 beds he is donating to needy families.

I mentioned to Ryan Ludwick Thursday evening that La Russa said he would be starting here on Friday. Ryan said he expected it, but admitted that in the two games in Atlanta, he did not feel good at all.

Forgot to mention that Chris Duncan almost choked on his chewing gum in the dugout before the game. I asked him how many months it has been since he used tobacco. He counted out to nine. Great for him! Duncan took a lot of heat in some quarters for his use, so he deserves kudos for quitting.

Wellemeyer credited Dave Duncan with a mechanical adjustment with his hips that he said helped with his better outing on Friday.