February 26, 2009

Cardinals hope Schumaker fits at second

Feb. 26, 2009

JUPITER, Fla. - By Seth Livingstone, USA TODAY

Skip Schumaker, 29, has been an outfielder all his adult life. The St. Louis Cardinals believe he will be their second baseman this season.

As manager Tony La Russa explained the team's rationale last week, Schumaker was feeling his way around the keystone corner, taking ground balls and gloving flips from infield coach Jose Oquendo.

"In my position, I can't take enough ground balls or get enough repetitions," said Schumaker, who says he found out about the Cardinals' plan to shift him to the infield a week before reporting to spring training.

"I'd never taken a ground ball at second base, although I was a shortstop in high school and my first two years in college (at Loyola Marymount). I'm not comfortable there, that's for sure. I don't know if I'm going to be comfortable for a while."

Oquendo and Brendan Ryan, one of the Cardinals' other options at second base, say Schumaker is selling himself short.

"Schu is a professional and likes to do everything perfect," Oquendo said. "He looks better than I expected. We are going to have bumps in the road, but you've got to be patient. He has to be patient with himself."

Despite being a candidate for second base action along with minor league free agent Joe Thurston and rookie Brian Barden, Ryan has been helping tutor Schumaker -- repaying him for the time he spent helping him adjust to the outfield last season.

"I think the staff's got to be pretty pleased with what they're seeing right now," Ryan said. "And you've got to figure, being a pretty darn good athlete, that he's going to get better each day."

La Russa says it's an experiment destined to succeed.

"I've been in baseball 47 years," he said. "I pay a lot of attention to guys and teaching and defense. This is not crazy. I'm not saying it's going to work out, but it's worth doing. There is no bottom side. The end results are all to the good.

"If you make your best attempt, there's no failure. I don't know of anybody who's going to work at it in a more dedicated, tough manner than Skip."

The void at second base came about when St. Louis, unable to satisfy Adam Kennedy's desire to be traded, released him. Instead of looking outside the organization, the Cardinals decided to reconfigure.

"We have some proven producers (Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick) in the outfield," La Russa said, "and only three can play at a time."

Schumaker, who batted .302 with eight homers and 46 RBI in 2008, his first full season in the majors, anticipates that adjusting to "game speed" and getting the rhythm and timing on double plays will be his greatest challenges.

The shortstop will be Khalil Greene, another component in what will be a new-look Cardinals infield on opening day. St. Louis acquired Greene -- a 27-homer man in 2007 but .213 hitter in 2008 -- from the San Diego Padres to replace Cesar Izturis at shortstop. With third baseman Troy Glaus recovering from January shoulder surgery and expected to miss the first several weeks of the season, rookie David Freese is a likely candidate to open at third.

The constant remains first baseman Albert Pujols, the reigning National League MVP, with whom Schumaker is happy to share the right side of the infield.

"It means the world to me for him to come over and talk to me about things he sees and the things he went through when he moved from the outfield to the infield," Schumaker said. "Albert takes a lot of ground balls (in practice). He can have 'em (in games) if he wants 'em. I'm not going to say, 'Don't get that ball.' The guy's a Gold Glover and it's going to help me having him to my left."

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