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Encarnacion among three late arrivals to finally practice
JUPITER, Fla. -- Juan Encarnacion, Juan Mateo and Deivi Cruz practiced Friday for the first time this spring, while two Cardinals relievers looked impressive in outings against live hitters.
Encarnacion, Mateo and Cruz, along with Hector Luna and reliever Ricardo Rincon, were late arriving at Cardinals camp because of visa problems. Luna was expected to practice Saturday, and Rincon had his visa appointment in Mexico on Friday. The other four players are from the Dominican Republic.
Encarnacion, signed as a free agent in the offseason, faced reliever Carmen Cali in a live batting practice session that also included NL MVP Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel, the former pitcher trying to resurrect his career as an outfielder.
It was La Russa's first chance this spring to see Encarnacion.
"He runs well, he has power -- I'm thinking fourth, fifth or sixth" in the batting order, La Russa said. "I've said second and I don't think it's way out of the question, but if I had to bet a dollar, I'd pick sixth."
Encarnacion hit .287 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 141 games with Florida last season.
Another new acquisition, right-handed reliever Braden Looper, threw off the mound to live hitters for the first time this spring. He threw 30 pitches and faced Dave Berg, Reid Gorecki, Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan and Prentice Redman.
"That's always the first test, the first day with hitters," Looper said. "I feel like I'm getting stronger every time. I didn't throw as many strikes as I wanted to, but that's what you expect your first time out. I was pretty happy with the way it went."
Looper pitched the entire 2005 season with an injured right shoulder yet led the Mets with 28 saves in 36 chances and was second on the team with 60 appearances.
Another reliever, left-hander Tyler Johnson, looked solid against Scott Rolen, Scott Spiezio, Travis Hanson and Brian Daubach, mixing a combination of four pitches and commanding the majority of his breaking pitches in the strike zone.
"I felt really good," Johnson said. "I was throwing my change-up for strikes and my fastball where I wanted to. My slider felt good, but my curve ball needed a little polishing up."