JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — St. Louis manager Tony La Russa wasn’t looking at execution as much as he wanted to judge attitude during the Cardinals’ first controlled scrimmage of the spring.
While Saturday’s mock game didn’t feature any player expected to be in the opening day lineup, those vying to replace injured utility infielder Nick Punto were all on the field.
“It’s just a different kind of practice,” La Russa said. “If a guy kicks a couple of balls, it’s not the end of the world. If he hits two balls out of the park, it doesn’t mean a lot. It counts much more that you are into the game and are energized. And then you have a chance to show some talent.”
The Cardinals held the scrimmage after running through normal morning drills, with hitters taking their cuts off batting-practice speed pitches, while fielders tried to record the normal three-out inning.
La Russa will use the next few weeks to try to decide upon a replacement for Punto, who is expected to miss at least the first month of the season after undergoing surgery on Thursday for a sports hernia.
Punto signed as a free agent in the offseason after spending the past seven seasons in Minnesota. He gave the Cardinals a reliable backup at second, third and short, something La Russa may not be able to find from any one player already in camp.
Nine-year veteran Ramon Vasquez, who signed a minor league contract and last played in the majors with Pittsburgh in 2009, can cover all three positions, but his lifetime .254 average may hold him back.
“I feel comfortable everywhere,” said Vasquez, who played second base on Saturday. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the big leagues and I had a lot of time playing third base in Texas, and I played third in winter ball every year. Second base, to me, comes pretty much natural. I really could fit in anywhere.”
With starting third baseman David Freese coming off surgery on both ankles during the offseason and already promised extra rest at the beginning of this season, finding a utility man who is also an experienced third baseman is a priority.
But the Cardinals could have outfielder Allen Craig spell Freese, which would allow La Russa to carry someone like Tyler Greene, who is primarily considered a middle infielder but has also been putting in some work in center field this spring.
“Nothing has been communicated to me about what’s been going on,” a smiling Greene said. “I’m feeling good. I’m pretty much just waiting for the games to start.”
Daniel Descalso, who primarily played second base in the minors but started nine games for the Cardinals at third last season, is a career .284 hitter in the minors and could bring the best combination of offense and defense to the role.
“It’s on me to make sure I get my work done at both spots so that I’m ready to go on both sides of the diamond,” Descalso said.
La Russa has said Donovan Solano and Pete Kozma also have the opportunity to fill the utility role.
The Cardinals will hold another scrimmage on Sunday before opening their slate of spring training games Monday against Florida.
Copyright Associated Press