07/09/12 4:08 PM ET
La Russa's NL lineup choices interesting as usual
CarGo at DH, Cain on the mound among unexpected decisions
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Matt Cain will serve as the NL's starting pitcher, while Carlos Gonzalez leads off and serves as the designated hitter. Cain was selected over Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, while Gonzalez beat out a pair of midseason MVP candidates in David Wright and Andrew McCutchen for the DH spot.
La Russa explained Cain's selection as an honor for not only a strong half-season, but an impressive career. The Giants right-hander threw a perfect game earlier this year and is among the league leaders in nearly all statistical categories, but Dickey ranks ahead of him in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
"I don't think it detracts at all from R.A.'s accomplishments and being here," La Russa said. "Whenever he pitches, it's going to be a great event for him and for baseball and for ourselves. I just looked at it, [pitching coach Dave Duncan] and I did have some conversations, and we wanted to reward Matt Cain for a career of excellence that's getting better and better. ... It was a tough call."
As for Gonzalez, La Russa noted that he leaned on advice from Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford, who played for La Russa with the Oakland A's in the 1980s and '90s. La Russa has long been fond of having power hitters at the top of his lineup.
"I asked him about CarGo, and he said he can hit all over," La Russa said. "[Lansford] said last year when [the Rockies] really got hot, he hit at the top of the lineup and made things happen. I like that when Justin [Verlander] takes the mound at the top of the first, he looks over there and he sees some real damage right off the bat. He's got all the weapons to deal with it, but I think these guys will get his attention."
National League lineup
|1. Carlos Gonzalez, COL||L||DH|
|2. Melky Cabrera, SF||S||CF|
|3. Ryan Braun, MIL||R||LF|
|4. Joey Votto, CIN||L||1B|
|5. Carlos Beltran, STL||S||RF|
|6. Buster Posey, SF||R||C|
|7. Pablo Sandoval, SF||S||3B|
|8. Dan Uggla, ATL||R||2B|
|9. Rafael Furcal, STL||S||SS|
|Matt Cain, SF||R||P|
McCutchen has emerged as one of baseball's breakout stars this year, leading the Pirates to first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. McCutchen is participating in the State Farm Home Run Derby, and he leads the NL in batting average and slugging percentage. But while McCutchen would have been a strong choice as the designated hitter, La Russa has a different job in mind for the Pittsburgh star.
"He's got to play center field," La Russa said. "Certain guys you didn't want [to use at DH]. You didn't want [Jay] Bruce to DH, you didn't want McCutchen. They've got to play the field."
Elsewhere in his lineup, La Russa said most of his choices were relatively straightforward. Melky Cabrera bats second, followed by Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Carlos Beltran, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Dan Uggla and Rafael Furcal in the No. 9 spot. La Russa sometimes batted his pitcher eighth in the National League, liking to use the ninth position as a "second leadoff man," and he used that exact term to refer to Furcal as his ninth hitter.
La Russa didn't commit to how he will use the pitchers after Cain, except to say that Dickey will likely pitch sometime in the middle of the game. Dickey will enter the game when backup catcher Carlos Ruiz does, so that Ruiz can catch the knuckleballer in the bullpen. Precedent suggests that the move would take place sometime around the fifth inning.
"I don't think I'll bring him in during an inning, and it's very likely that when he comes in, it will be just as Buster leaves and Carlos gets to catch," La Russa said. "I think that seems to make sense, that they would warm up together and get a little familiar."
Ruiz and Posey are the only catchers on the roster, due to the fact that Yadier Molina has returned home to Puerto Rico to tend to a family matter. La Russa said he did not think that will be a problem, thanks to the fact that Posey could re-enter the game in case of an injury to Ruiz.
"We went with three just because Molina and Ruiz were great," La Russa said. "And even then, I was going to play both of those guys in the last half of the game, and we would have been down to our last catcher and you could bring one of them back. Now Posey's going to have to hang around."
One thing seems to be settled: This will be La Russa's last game as a manager. He was emphatic that he does not miss being in a dugout, preferring his new life as a retiree.
"I'm second-guessing [the managers] every game I watch, so I don't miss managing at all," La Russa said. "I'm never wrong."
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Matthew Leach is a writer 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.