MIAMI -- After a lost 2008 season, Brendan Ryan is making a significant bid to become the Cardinals' regular shortstop.

Ryan's four hits Wednesday night in a 13-4 victory over the Marlins lifted his batting average to .318 and encouraged manager Tony La Russa to keep writing his name into the lineup.

La Russa did again Thursday, elevating Ryan from ninth in the order to lead off in the team's early afternoon series finale at Land Shark Stadium.

La Russa, ever guarded about rushing players into significant roles before they're ready to handle it over the long haul, said Ryan has been instrumental in helping the Cardinals shake an offensive malaise. Yet the manager is not ready to jump to any conclusions just yet.

"It's hard to do it once," La Russa said of Ryan's four-hit game. "It's harder to keep doing it. So he's got a lot of work yet to do. But he's given us a big lift."

Ryan is hitting .400 in June (14-of-35), with four stolen bases. He said he's just been trying to find holes in the defense.

"I'm trying to keep the ball out of the air," he said. "Swing level and hit the ball on the ground or on a line."

Ryan suffered an oblique injury in Spring Training last year that hindered his development. By the time he was healthy again, the Cardinals were tinkering with other options at shortstop and second base.

"We had a lot of middle infielders last year," Ryan said. "I wound up getting lost in the shuffle."

The Cardinals signed Khalil Greene in the offseason to become their regular shortstop, but it hasn't worked out. Mired in a slump, Greene is now in Triple-A Memphis trying to resurrect his career.

That has left the door open for Ryan, who said he's focusing on the present and leaving any big picture analysis to others.

"I'm just trying to put together some good at-bats and help the team win," he said. "I'm not thinking about whether I'm a regular or not. I'm not going to panic about it. My time will come."

Batting ninth, Ryan said he can be "more aggressive" than in the leadoff spot, because as the leadoff guy, his main aim is to get on base for the Cardinals' best hitters.

Yet, Ryan acknowledged he likely would get less harassment from opposing team fans if he batted in the No. 1 hole. The Cardinals bat their pitcher eighth, which makes the ninth guy subject to catcalls.

"Man, you've got to be going through some tough times, with the pitcher hitting ahead of you," Ryan heard one man yell at him recently. Others, he said, have used cruder terms. He said he's learned not to worry about the insults, just the same way he's developed thick skin about the criticism from wearing his socks exceptionally high.

Right now, Ryan is just basking in the knowledge that he had his first Major League four-hit game.

"I'll take 'em -- whether I hit the ball hard or had four broken-bat hits," he said. "The key is to be able to set the table for the big guys."