Encarnacion faces uncertain future as a baseball player

Thursday, January 17, 2008
Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion took batting practice during spring training last season. (JAMES FINLEY ~ Associated Press)

The Cardinals lost their starting right fielder to a freak eye injury.

ST. LOUIS -- Juan Encarnacion's horrific eye injury is expected to sideline him this season, and the St. Louis Cardinals aren't sure if he'll ever play again.

Encarnacion was standing in the on-deck circle at Busch Stadium on Aug. 31 when a foul ball struck him in the left eye. Soon after the injury, Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals' medical director, called it the "worst trauma I've seen. Absolutely."

Paletta said at the time he wasn't certain if Encarnacion ever would regain full vision.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday that Encarnacion continues to seek treatment for the injury. Mozeliak said he hasn't spoken to the outfielder since before Christmas. Encarnacion turns 32 in March.

Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion was helped off the field by trainers Greg Hauck, left, and Barry Weinberg, right, after being hit in the head by a foul ball while standing in the on-deck circle during a game last season. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

"As far as an update on whether he'll play or not, I would say it's probably likely he will not," Mozeliak said. "But until we actually see him in St. Louis and get our own doctors to deal with that, it will be hard for me to answer that firmly."

Calls to Encarnacion's agent, Eric Goldschmidt, were not immediately returned.

At the time of the injury, Paletta said the eye socket was essentially crushed on impact, and that the optic nerve had sustained severe trauma.

Encarnacion hit .283 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in 78 games last season. He missed the first month and a half recovering from wrist surgery.

In 11 seasons, he has hit .270 with 156 home runs for Detroit, Cincinnati, Florida, the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis. He was signed by the Cardinals before the 2006 season and has one year remaining on his contract.

In addition to the potential loss of Encarnacion, the Cardinals traded third baseman Scott Rolen and center fielder Jim Edmonds this offseason, and declined to re-sign shortstop David Eckstein.

Still, Mozeliak thinks the team has flexibility in the outfield, though he said another deal is possible.

Mozeliak said Chris Duncan likely will be the everyday left fielder and Colby Rasmus, the organization's prized prospect, will get a chance in spring training to earn a spot in center field. Rick Ankiel, the one-time pitcher who hit 11 homers in 47 games last season, can play center or right. Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick also are in the mix.

The Cardinals also selected outfielder Brian Barton in the winter meeting draft (Rule 5) from the Indians. The 25-year-old Barton has a .314 career average in 354 minor league games.

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