Ryan to start in Cardinals' opener

Sunday, April 5, 2009 | 8:41 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals' second base experiment made it to Opening Day, even if Skip Schumaker won't be in the lineup.

The left-handed hitting Schumaker batted .168 against lefties last year and isn't starting on Monday against the Pirates' Paul Maholm, against whom he's 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Brendan Ryan, a right-handed hitter who's 1-for-7 against Maholm, instead gets the call at both leadoff and second base.

Still, the conversion will ease an overcrowded outfield heading into a four-game series starting Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Even without Schumaker in the mix, there are four outfielders who'll share playing time — Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan and Colby Rasmus. Schumaker, who batted .302 in his first full season, was force-fed the job during spring training and got more comfortable and less mechanical as time passed.

"We'll just have to let the season happen and if he can handle the day-to-day job, that's great for us," general manager John Mozeliak said Sunday. "There's no reason to think he can't handle it."

Rookie David Freese — expected to be the top fill-in for injured Troy Glaus at third base — also will start the season on the bench in manager Tony La Russa's unusual opening-day lineup. Khalil Greene has 15 career at-bats at cleanup, but that's where he'll be in the opener coming off a .408 spring average that was among the NL leaders. Another rookie, Brian Barden, is set to start at third and bat eighth.

The lineup is conventional in one regard, with pitcher Adam Wainwright batting ninth. La Russa had the pitchers batting eighth in every game since the final 56 games of 2007, with the No. 9 hitter serving as a second leadoff man to get more runners on for Pujols.

Wainwright (11-3, 3.20) gets his second try at a first opening day start — last year's start was postponed by rain — against Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm (9-9, 3.71).

"We're far from perfect," Mozeliak said. "But I still think we're a pretty good club."

The Pirates are another story. They enter the season trying to end a string of 16 consecutive losing seasons, tied for the longest such slump in major league history, and with a roster that's not appreciably different from the 2008 team that finished last in the NL Central at 67-95 last year.

Pittsburgh was 17-15 this spring, a bigger deal because of the struggles.

"You've got to start somewhere," manager John Russell said. "In the situation we're in, a younger team and a team that has a lot of questions from the outside, it is better to win in spring training than lose.

"I wouldn't say huge momentum, but it's a nice feeling knowing that we've played well."

Whether they'll get to play Monday is perhaps the biggest question, with a forecast calling for temperatures in the 30s with snow flurries and high winds. There's already a contingency plan, a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday in case the opener is postponed.

La Russa wants to avoid that at all costs because the compressed early-season schedule brought on by the World Baseball Classic leaves the Cardinals without a day off until April 20. Typically, the day after opening day is an off-day, but not this year, meaning the Cardinals could need a fill-in starter as early as Saturday.

The weather was much nicer, in the 60s, for Sunday's workout.

"All I know is it could be zero and we need to play," La Russa said. "I think we'll play."

Pirates manager John Russell, whose team is opening on the road for the fourth straight season, is aboard with that sentiment.

"I remember as a player on opening day, no matter where you're at you get butterflies," Russell said. "It's the one day you do not want to get rained out. We spent the good part of 6-7 weeks to get here and it's time to go."

A key to a better start for the Pirates, 10-16 at the end of April in 2008, is more contribution early from Adam La Roche. The streaky slugger opened 2008 with two hits followed by an 0-for-25 slump and batted .174 the opening month with one homer and five RBIs.

He finished with 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .270 average.

"I feel like all I can do is put the work in and give 100 percent on the field," La Roche said. "I don't know why it takes a while to get loose."


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