CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Can't make the club from the tub.

It's an axiom most in Major League clubhouses are familiar with. The loose translation is that it's hard to make an impression if you're injured or sick.

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Perhaps it's trite or too cliched, but Cardinals infielder Brendan Ryan is living it. The 26-year-old came into camp with a world of opportunity in front of him. Adam Kennedy went to the Rays. Aaron Miles was a Cub. There was a wide gaping hole at second base. He talked to manager Tony La Russa during the offseason and was pumped about what could happen. It hasn't exactly gone the way he envisioned it.

"It's a drag; it's the worst," Ryan said about the fact he's managed just nine at-bats this spring. "Especially this camp, there's all this opportunity and here you are and you can't stay on the field."

First, Ryan was held up with tendinitis in his right wrist. Then he got nailed with a flu bug. He's finally getting back to full strength and hopes he can stay on the field long enough to show he belongs on the 25-man roster when the Cards open against the Pirates on April 6. Ryan's always been a high-energy guy with a ton of personality. While that isn't gone, it's clear his up-and-down 2008 as well as the rough start this spring have humbled and subdued him.

"This is a 'prove it' year for me. Last year I struggled a lot," Ryan said. "I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone that I belonged and that I can be a productive Major League player.

"This is not how I saw the Spring going at this point. I kind of want to start fresh. Treat this almost as Day 1, like this is a three-week camp. I think defensively, you can make up for lost time, but offensively, you definitely need your at-bats. We'll see what happens. I'll be ready for each and every at-bat."

He hoped to grab at least a few on this two-day "road trip" to Clearwater and Lakeland. But he might be facing an uphill battle. Khalil Greene has been the starter at shortstop from the first day. Joe Mather looks more and more like the starter at third until Troy Glaus gets back. Ryan still hopes he can establish himself as the backup at each of those spots.

Then there's second base. It's still an open competition, officially, but Ryan is realistic. The Cardinals have given Skip Schumaker, he of the .302 average last year and .333 this spring entering Sunday, the bulk of the playing time at second as they try to ascertain if he can handle the defensive switch from the outfield. Non-roster invitee Joe Thurston, who also can play the outfield, has performed well. Tyler Greene has seen considerable playing time around the infield.

"We're giving guys playing time there," La Russa said. "It's no secret we're giving a lot to Schumaker because if he can do that, it opens up an outfield spot for one of our sluggers."

This has all happened largely with Ryan sitting and watching. Unfortunately, it's something the infielder has dealt with at various times throughout his career, with 2007 the only time since he was drafted in '03 that he played in more than 105 games. It's something he needs to show he can get past if he wants to have a role on this club.

"He can play second and short," La Russa said. "He's got big league experience. He needs to show he's reliable and can be available. And when he's available, he needs to play well."

Working to Ryan's advantage is the fact he's played 147 games in the big leagues over the past two seasons. He also could possibly benefit from the numbers game that so often helps decisions get made. Ryan is out of options and if he doesn't make the club, he'll have to clear waivers before he can be sent down. Ryan is hoping he can keep it from getting to that.

"I'm ready to go," Ryan said. "Hopefully, I can make up for lost time and make this team and have some kind of positive impact.

"Generally, in this game, you have to earn everything. I knew second base was pretty much open. I wanted to maybe establish myself as the No. 2 guy [at third and short].Then if I can win the second-base spot, then, jeez, the dream has come true. You're a Major League everyday starter kind of guy. That was the idea, at least. Have I given up on that? Absolutely not. Right now, I'm sitting and seeing if [Schumaker] can play the position. If not, maybe I'll fill the void. We'll see."