Marlon Anderson has been the Cardinals' most reliable pinch-hitter. (Tom Hood/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- It's no stretch to say that the bench was a significant concern for the Cardinals coming into this season. Orlando Palmeiro and Eduardo Perez were both useful role players, while Miguel Cairo was a favorite of manager Tony La Russa for his attitude and versatility.
With the departure of those three, as well as catcher/utlityman Eli Marrero, it was a question as to what sort of reserve corps the Cards would field this season. Thus far, the unit has been a strength.
As a group, Cardinals pinch-hitters entered Wednesday hitting .268 with a .327 on-base percentage and 17 RBIs in 97 at-bats. Marlon Anderson is a spiffy 7-for-18 as a pinch-hitter and Roger Cedeno is 4-for-10. Hector Luna is only 1-for-11 off the bench, but has hit well overall.
"What we tell the guy is, if that's his role, while he's waiting to be an everyday guy, his attitude about not starting a game and being ready is probably more important than his talent," said La Russa. "I've seen guys with lesser ability who are really mentally strong, they stay ready for anything, they refuse to make excuses. They'll be more productive than a more talented guy who's walking around [upset]."
Anderson is one player who could have fallen into that trap but hasn't. Projected as the starting second baseman when he signed in the offseason, he has instead become a utilityman and bat off the bench.
"He's earned a lot of points in there with players, coaches and the manager because he had a very respectable year in the American League last year and he can make a claim that he should be playing every day," La Russa said. "But he's been outstanding. And I know he wants to play more. But he's been outstanding in spot starts and coming off the bench. He's always ready.
"It just shows you. If you're a pro, part of being a pro is if that's your role, you've got to make the best of it. ... You've got to do the best you can. Marlon has earned a lot of respect in this clubhouse because of the way he's handled it."
What to do?: Optimism is the operative word in discussions about Mike Matheny, who has been out for two weeks with a strained right oblique muscle. The Cards believe that Matheny may be able to return Friday, when he is eligible to be activated from the disabled list.
Mike Matheny / C
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
The question then becomes, what to do with the two catchers currently on the roster? Yadier Molina has drawn raves for his defense in his first taste of the big leagues, and he's held his own at the plate despite a .212 batting average.
Cody McKay was Matheny's backup to start the season, but that was at least partly due to the fact that Molina was not on the 40-man roster. Now that Molina is on the Major League roster, it becomes a more complicated question.
One element in the decision will be playing time for Molina. At 21, he's still very much in the developing phase of his career. He needs as many at-bats and innings as he can get.
"That's gonna be one of the calls," said La Russa. "Earlier when (Matheny) was fresh, we were catching Mike five of the six games a week. And I said as soon as it got warmer, Cody would get one game a series.
"We'll talk about that as an organization. Is it better to have Yadier playing every day? Down deep I think two days a week would not retard him."
King is in: The Cardinals held a brief players meeting on Wednesday afternoon to elect their new representative to the MLB Players Association. The choice was Ray King, with Jason Marquis named the No. 2 man. King, who served as the Brewers' player rep during the CBA negotiations in 2002, relishes the opportunity.
"I think it's a privilege," he said. "You look at our peers in the game, Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, these guys are beginning to weed themselves out. Tony Clark. They're going to be gone in a few years. This will be my third or fourth year of doing it, so hopefully I can step in more to become like Tom Glavine, knowing from the basic agreement all the way down to who's representing who in what situation."
King takes over for fellow lefty Steve Kline.
Baby 'Birds: Danny Haren rebounded from his rough spot start with St. Louis to go seven innings and pick up the win for Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday. Haren also doubled and So Taguchi went 3-for-5 as the Redbirds beat New Orleans, 9-2. ... Javier Colina homered and drove in five runs for Double-A Tennessee in a 7-5 win over Huntsville. Dan Moylan added three hits for the Smokies. ... Anthony Reyes struck out seven and allowed only an unearned run in 4 2/3 innings but Single-A Palm Beach lost, 2-1, to Daytona. ... Single-A Peoria lost a heartbreaker to Fort Wayne, 5-4, in 17 innings. The Chiefs had one-run leads in the ninth and 12th, but both times Fort Wayne tied it up. Cody Haerther, Calvin Hayes and Anthony Monegan had three hits each.
The player of the day was Haren, who five days earlier was hammered by the Cubs in his 2004 Major League debut. He struck out six and did not issue a walk while also driving in a run at the plate. The big right-hander leads the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 96 and is second in wins with eight.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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