Belliard admits to feeling like rookie in Cards debut

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The second baseman was 0-for-3 and made an error in Tuesday's loss.

ST. LOUIS -- It appeared that Ronnie Belliard had a bit of the jitters in his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Now that it's over, this year's big acquisition for the stretch drive hopes to settle down and solidify second base.

He can forget about the double-play ball in his first at-bat, and the throwing error and the pop fly he staggered under before catching it, missteps he partially atoned for with a successful squeeze bunt.

"It felt like the first time in the big leagues," Belliard said Tuesday night. "I feel excited, and I think tomorrow is going to be better."

Manager Tony La Russa noted that Belliard's performance was a lot like the rest of the team, which was held hitless the last five innings on Tuesday in their fifth straight loss.

"Is he different than most of the guys that played?" La Russa said. "I hope he was excited and pressing a little bit, but I thought he handled himself fine."

Belliard, 31, insisted there was no pressure.

"Sometimes you try to do too much to help the team, but I don't have to do that here," Belliard said. "I just have to play my game."

Belliard represents a major upgrade at second base for the National League Central leaders, who had been making do with a combination of light-hitting Aaron Miles and inexperienced Hector Luna. Luna, plucked from the Indians in the Rule 5 draft after the 2003 season, went back to Cleveland in the deal.

Belliard was an All-Star in 2004 and once he's comfortable he figures to help solidify what has often been a patchwork lineup. La Russa batted him seventh in his debut while rookie Chris Duncan held the No. 2 spot, but that changed on Wednesday when the two switched spots.

"It's good for today, see how it works," La Russa said. "Just change things around, different from shaking things up."

La Russa said Belliard's combination of power and speed reminds him of Edgar Renteria, a staple on several postseason teams. Belliard hit .291 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 93 games with the Indians, including a career-best 14-game hitting streak, and has driven in 70 or more runs the last two seasons.

This could end up being a rental for the Cardinals, given that Belliard can be a free agent after the season and that the Indians have expressed a desire to get him back.

"We'll see," La Russa said. "Right now there's two months left this year, so we'll concentrate on that first."

For now, Belliard is looking forward to working with shortstop David Eckstein.

"He already knows what he likes and he already knows what I like," Belliard said. "We just have to go out there and play our game, and I know it's going to be fun."

Eckstein said having a regular double-play partner was nice -- he and Mark Grudzielanek had a team-record year in 2005 -- but he emphasized that he liked working with Luna and Miles, too. Miles becomes the backup at both second and short.

"He's an established player, and you know he's going to go out there and be consistent," Eckstein said. "In a position that I am, you just go out there and play with whomever's out there."

The Cardinals' other deadline pickup, pitcher Jorge Sosa, made an impressive debut. Summoned with the bases loaded in the sixth, he got the Phillies' Pat Burrell to line out for the third out and then worked a perfect seventh.

Sosa, 28, had been designated for assignment by the Braves after going 3-10 with a 5.46 ERA and failing both as a starter and reliever. The Cardinals like his power arm that can hit the mid-90s and his youth, plus the fact he was 13-3 with a 2.55 ERA last year.

"The fact he's got a plus arm, that gets your attention, and he's still under 30," La Russa said. "The success he had last year as a starter gets your attention."

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