Miles makes most of opportunities to pitch

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was running out of players in a 12-1 loss last August at Washington when he leaned on Aaron Miles to work a mop-up inning on the mound.

"I was the only guy left one day, and I did pretty good," Miles said. "I got three outs and he gave me another chance."

Now, the St. Louis Cardinals' versatile infielder is the logical choice when the starter and bullpen both have blown tires. He was the only pitcher to emerge unscathed in Friday's 20-2 rout at the hands of the Phillies, working a perfect ninth against the top of the order.

"He does everything else, so why can't he do that?" La Russa said. "Wherever he plays, he plays well. He's a heck of a player, and I don't play him as much as he deserves."

Two of Miles' three cameo innings have been perfect, although he surrendered a two-run homer to Houston's J.R. Towles last September.

As a youth, he stopped pitching at age 8 or 9 to concentrate on catching and middle infield.

"There were always guys who were bigger and who could throw it harder," the 5-foot-8, 185-pound Miles said.

Miles can play three infield positions, he made his first career outfield appearance last year, and he's ready if La Russa needs a third-string catcher.

"I just grab the ball and throw it," Miles said. "I kind of come from the side a little bit and sometimes it'll sink away a little bit, and it's not as straight as can be, so that helps.

"I think the only reason you have success is our brains are trained to hit 90 mph, and when you've got a guy throwing 70, it's just different no matter what."

Miles has no desire to work a second inning or pitch in a closer game, either. He's happy just to eat an inning and perhaps leave a few hitters shaking their heads on the way back to the dugout.

"Anytime you face a position player, you're thinking, 'What if I don't get a hit? What's everybody going to say?"' Miles said. "But I wouldn't want to face these hitters with a game on the line, because I don't think I'd have the same results."

He would be perfectly happy, too, if his pitching arm isn't needed again this year.

"It's fun, but it's bittersweet at the same time," Miles said. "To get to that point, we've had a rough day as a team."

Miles, batting .285 in 144 at-bats, figures to see plenty of the field in the near future, even if it's not on the mound. The Cardinals begin a stretch of 12 straight interleague games today, with the first of three against the Kansas City Royals, and Miles has had robust success against the American League.

He was a .419 interleague hitter (18-for-43) last season, and earlier this season went 6-for-11 in a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. Last year, he had a career-best five-hit game in a 14-inning victory over the Royals.

Miles reasons it's because he's a singles hitter, with only five doubles and 10 RBIs among his 46 hits.

"I can't explain it, whether I'm hot at the time it comes around or whether American League pitchers look at me as a guy they're not worried about," Miles said. "I guarantee you it's probably because I'm feeling good at the time."

Noteworthy

* RHP Todd Wellemeyer will be examined for tightness in his elbow today before getting cleared to make his next scheduled start Thursday.

* The Cardinals are encouraged by LHP Mark Mulder's first start of his second rehab stint. Mulder stopped worrying about pitching from a pre-surgery arm slot and worked five scoreless innings for Class AA Springfield coming from a lower angle. "I think he's on his way finally," La Russa said. "It's the most excited we've been."

* LHP Randy Flores walked both hitters he faced in the eighth inning Sunday, including Ryan Howard with the bases loaded to force in the tying run, but avoided criticism from the manager. "I thought he had decent bite on his breaking ball. He was just missing. But you can't say 'Here, hit it,' because they will. I'm all right with Flo," La Russa said.

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