Injuries taking toll on Cards' Eckstein

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The high-energy shortstop has a growing list of ailments.

ST. LOUIS -- David Eckstein, the shortstop with the infectious go-go attitude, the "pulse" of the St. Louis Cardinals, needs a tuneup.

Worn down by injuries since June, he now has a sprained left shoulder, courtesy of a diving stop on Jose Reyes' infield hit during Game 5 of the NL championship series.

Since then, he has taken fewer batting practice cuts than his teammates and has avoided unnecessary throws to conserve his strength for games. He skipped Monday's off-day at Busch Stadium while the rest of his teammates went through a mandatory workout.

Eckstein's defense hasn't been affected, though he's had no success at the plate in the World Series or much in the postseason overall.

"I limit my swings in the on-deck circle, limit batting practice," Eckstein said. "If the other guys are taking three sessions in the cage, I'll take one or two.

"I limit all the stuff I do before the game."

Eckstein, who batted .292 in the regular season, is 0-for-9 against the Tigers with a strikeout and a double-play ball to end the eighth inning in the Cardinals' 3-1 loss in Game 2. He's hitting .160 overall (8-for-50) in the postseason with two extra-base hits, a homer and a double, and two RBIs.

Trainer Barry Weinberg said the latest injury isn't so severe that Eckstein wouldn't have tried to play through it during the regular season. Weinberg also noted the heart factor.

"Is he 100 percent? No. Is he playable? Yeah," Weinberg said. "So he plays. That's David, that's his nature. He pushes on and he doesn't want to not be in the lineup."

Teammate Scott Rolen said Eckstein deserves to be out there, if he thinks he can play. That, of course, is a sticky subject since the Gold Glove third baseman was benched twice in the postseason because he wasn't hitting.

"If he gives the nod that he can go out and play, he earned it and we want him out there," Rolen said. "I believe the man. I'll take him out there any day."

Pitcher Chris Carpenter called Eckstein "a leader in this clubhouse."

"He's a leader on the field, and he comes every day to play the game as hard as he can," Carpenter said. "He's a big part of this club."

In the postseason, it's common for players to soldier through aches and pains accumulated from six months of competition.

"Man, there's a lot of people banged up right now," Preston Wilson said. "That's part of the game, that's part of what you do.

"Playing banged up right now is better than sitting at home."

Those have always been words to live by for Eckstein, although this year he was limited to 123 games. The physical woes began with what was described as a mild concussion sustained in mid-June while breaking up a double play in Pittsburgh.

Eckstein was second in the NL with 86 hits to go with a .322 average when he was hurt. Post-concussion symptoms, again mild, held him to a .234 average in July and .233 in August while he struggled with focus.

He missed 24 games after a hard slide into Cubs catcher Michael Barrett on Aug. 19 resulted in a strained left side muscle. He sat for five more games with a strained left hamstring in late September.

The Cardinals have a capable backup in Aaron Miles, who did a nice job filling in during Eckstein's side injury. It's highly unlikely, though, that Eckstein will ask for time off.

"Unfortunately, he's been banged up," Weinberg said. "He plays so hard a lot of times it catches up with him.

"But you can't tell him to back off his game, because that's not who he is."

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