Third base in good hands with Mather
Infielder growing comfortable with glove after transition this spring
JUPITER, Fla. -- It's a very good thing for the Cardinals that infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-infielder-again Joe Mather is working out well at third base. Without him, they'd be in quite a pickle.
Starter Troy Glaus is out due to shoulder surgery he underwent in January. Heir apparent David Freese remains sidelined with an Achilles' tendon injury. Other potential candidates such as Brian Barden and Brendan Ryan have dealt with physical maladies as well. And despite perceptions that may have taken root over the winter, the club never seriously considered Brett Wallace as a candidate.
That leaves Mather, who was drafted as an infielder, moved to the outfield in the Minors and moved to third base this spring.
"It's a very nice thing to see what he's doing," said general manager John Mozeliak. "It takes a lot of pressure off pushing a player that might not be ready to play."
Mather made three fine plays in Thursday's win over the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team. He snared two sharp line drives and made a deft move to his left to retire Nelson Cruz. He's also hit fairly well, though not sensationally -- batting .261 with a .434 slugging percentage.
But the Cardinals know Mather can hit. What they need to see is the glove.
"I actually felt a lot better than I thought I would from Day 1," Mather said. "I thought I'd be a lot more uncomfortable and hesitant. I actually felt decent today, so its kind of has been building up, building up, building up. I really haven't gotten a lot of plays over there."
Entering spring, the pecking order appeared to be Freese-Mather-everyone else. Manager Tony La Russa contested that contention recently, however, pointing out that Freese has yet to establish himself as a Major Leaguer. Now he hasn't had a chance to do so this spring, due to the injury. At some point, that can hamper his chances of making the Major League team.
"It depends on when he gets back," La Russa said. "Clearly, he's got to get healthy. That's No. 1. He's got to get to where he's 100 percent. We're all impressed by him. He's a very good-looking player."
Wallace, however, was never a serious factor, according to both manager and GM. The lefty hitter out of Arizona State was St. Louis No. 1 pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft. He's an extremely polished hitter but raw defensively.
"He signed last summer," La Russa said. "This is a great break for him to come to big league camp and see what the big leagues are like. There are a lot of guys on the pecking order of at-bats that mean something for our club in '09. He's not on that.
"He has to demonstrate that he's a Major League third baseman defensively. Right? He hasn't demonstrated that yet. And this is not the time to get the opportunity. What he has the opportunity to do is to get work, work, work. Be around. Listen to the instructions. If we were absolutely vacant there and you wanted to push him ... but he has to prove he can hit Triple-A pitching first. He hasn't done that either, right? He's got t's to cross and i's to dot yet."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.