Rasmus still has time, but needs Skip’s help

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. I believe Skip Schumaker’s success or failure at second base will have as much or more impact on top prospect Colby Rasmus making the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals out of spring training than will Rasmus’ own play.

The problem is that Rasmus’ chances are hitting on neither cylinder right now.

The outfielder is sidelined, for what is said to be short-term in duration, due to hamstring soreness. The 22-year-old has missed almost three games after leaving after one at-bat on Sunday against Florida. Even so, Rasmus is still leading the Cardinals in at-bats with 33.

The top prospect is batting just .242 for a Cardinals club that is leading all Florida spring training clubs in run scoring. Of the 18 players in Cards camp with at least ten at bats coming into Wednesday, only four have a lower batting average.

Two of them, Jason LaRue (.200) and Ryan Ludwick (.130), are assured of jobs. The other two, like Rasmus, are playing for their roster spots – Brian Barton (.208) and Joe Thurston (.182).

Even worse for Rasmus is that the Schumaker experiment at second base is drawing more fire as the errors mount. Rather than repeat it, I will simply link to Joe Strauss’ Wednesday article from the Post-Dispatch.

I will highlight just one point. Even with generous amounts of home-cooked scoring, Schumaker’s fielding percentage currently sits at .826. Just as there is time for Rasmus’ bat to come around, there is also time for Schumaker’s defense to improve.

Not too much time, though.

With spring elongated by a week due to the World Baseball Classic, Schumaker would never have a longer period to try to learn the position on the fly, but no one should have expected it to be successful. Hope, yes, but expect, no.

As one would assume, manager Tony La Russa doesn’t want to talk about it, because realistically there is nothing he can say.

Tony knows he doesn’t want to risk injury to his franchise first baseman as an errant Schumaker throw on Sunday almost caused. The skipper also understands he needs to maintain the confidence of his ground ball-inducing pitching staff. That group won’t be able to deal with unearned runs on a regular basis, such as the two that scored due to Skip’s most recent miscue on Tuesday.

Todd Wellemeyer, Tuesday’s victim, was likely speaking on behalf of all the Cardinals pitchers when he made the point abundantly clear after the game.

“During the season, it’s not acceptable. It’s all there is to it. I don’t think Tony will have it,” Wellemeyer said.

La Russa has already announced that Schumaker is taking a game off from playing in the field on Thursday. He has scheduled the 29-year-old to be his designated hitter against the Boston Red Sox, potentially blocking off one avenue for Rasmus to get back into the lineup in the process. Friday’s split squad games seem a good alternate target for Colby’s return.

The Skip to DH move, even as temporary as one game, should allow several of the other second base candidates to receive some more meaningful playing time at the position. Currently, “Plan B” for second base is very unclear.

In another interesting tidbit, Derrick Goold reports that Skip has requested spring time in the outfield to ensure he is ready to play there. La Russa seemed fine with the idea of Schumaker moving between infield and outfield if needed. Yet this shouldn’t be necessary unless doubts are creeping in as to the permanence of the second base shift.

La Russa admitted as much when he told Strauss the following:

“If good things happen, then you keep giving him a chance because it means a lot to him. If it doesn’t do it, we gave it the ol’ college try.”

If the Cardinals have to permanently abandon the Schumaker move, how might the dominoes fall?

A trade of outfield surplus for a second baseman would be just as ideal now as it was last fall, but the same old problems remain, along with a new one.

First of all, will a decent player become available from a club that matches up with St. Louis in terms of need? Second, what is the chance that second baseman won’t cost more in salary than the player(s) the Cardinals would give up in return?

Another recent Strauss article quoted an organization source that the signing of reliever Dennys Reyes last week exhausted all the payroll flexibility in the team’s budget until at least mid-season. Unless an exception would be made, that may narrow what few options general manager John Mozeliak could unearth over the next three weeks. Money would also seem to rule out signing an aging free agent stop-gap such as former Cardinal Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham.

Skip is set offensively as the club’s leadoff hitter and despite the defensive challenges, is still batting .333 this spring. With no minor league options remaining, there will be no temptation to send him down to Memphis to get more work at the position.

Who would play second?

Of the four other candidates, as noted above, Thurston isn’t hitting. Brendan Ryan, slowed by injury earlier, is just 2-for-8 (.250). I have felt those two would have the inside track, with Thurston especially interesting because he bats from the left side.

Brian Barden had two hits Wednesday and is batting .429, but has been given limited action (just 14 at-bats). Tyler Greene, one of the early surprises of camp, has seen his spring average drop to .269. Neither has been eliminated, nor is Jarrett Hoffpauir (6-for-15, .400) entirely out of it, either.

Defensively, Schumaker would undoubtedly step back into the starting left field job, at least the majority of the time, against right-handed pitchers. With Rasmus and fellow outfielder Chris Duncan also hitting left-handed and with incumbent starters Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick set at the other two outfield positions, there would be no place for Rasmus to start. Add spring RBI leader Joe Mather back into the outfield mix once Troy Glaus reclaims his job at third base and… well, you get the idea.

Clearly, the Cardinals don’t want Rasmus on the bench, whether in St. Louis or Memphis.

Like Schumaker already doesn’t have enough pressure playing for himself; he very well may be playing for Colby, too.