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03/14/11 6:00 PM EST

Theriot looks to recapture success of '08

JUPITER, Fla. -- Tony La Russa doesn't want Ryan Theriot to go up to bat this year looking to draw a walk. But as long as Theriot isn't being asked to hack away and hit for power, that's perfectly fine with the Cardinals' new shortstop.

Three years ago, Theriot enjoyed an excellent season as the leadoff man for a Cubs team that won 97 games. He drew 73 walks against just 58 strikeouts while posting a very spiffy .387 on-base percentage. He only tallied 24 extra-base hits all year, but on a power-laden team, that wasn't his job. Theriot got on base and scored runs. It's what he was asked to do, and he did it well.

Going into '09, though, Theriot says he was asked to be something different. The Cubs wanted him to swing away more, put away his patience in favor of hitting the ball farther. He did the first part -- drawing 22 fewer walks and striking out 35 more times. He did hit for a little more power, but not enough to make up for how much less often he was getting on base. Theriot became a less effective offensive player, and in 2010 it just got worse.

In 2011, his first season with the Cardinals, he's trying to be the spark plug that he once was. If Theriot or whoever hits atop the Cardinals' lineup gets on base, the team is going to score runs. If the table-setters don't do their jobs, the offense will suffer.

"I was kind of asked to do some things I was uncomfortable doing, driving the ball and whatnot," Theriot said. "I definitely changed my approach a little bit. My goal every year up to that point was just to walk more than I struck out. See a lot of pitches, get on base. And a lot of times, when the team is struggling to score runs, you've got to start looking at other areas. That's kind of what happened. It was definitely by design, to be more aggressive. But with this lineup, I don't have to do that."

Still, his new manager is emphatic, not just with Theriot but with any hitter: the batter who goes up looking for a walk is in trouble. La Russa preaches selective aggressiveness -- lay off the bad pitches and swing at the good ones.

"The frame of mind he should have is, 'I want to be the toughest out I can be,'" La Russa said. "You take hittable pitches, and then guys throw it right down the middle and you fall behind and you're being defensive. You get up there and you have a real good eye and the guy throws you something you can center, swing at it."

That should work just fine for Theriot.

"[I'm] trying to have good at-bats," he said. "See pitches, be selective. I think all those things are important, especially in my game. The more pitches I can see, the deeper I can go into an at-bat, I feel like that benefits the guys behind me and obviously helps the team."

In Theriot's mind, that should add up to a higher on-base percentage -- and thus lead to more runs for the Cardinals. Asked if he believes he should have an OBP higher than what he's managed the past three years, Theriot doesn't hesitate. He's answering the question before it's even finished.

"Hundred percent," he said. "No doubt. I do."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.