Mather readjusts to third base

Thursday, March 5, 2009

JUPITER, Fla. -- Joe Mather is starting to feel at home at third base, a position he'd barely visited in more than a year.

With Troy Glaus expected to miss at least a month after offseason shoulder surgery, and with other competitors to temporarily take his job missing time with an assortment of injuries, Mather has become the Cardinals' de-facto everyday third baseman through the first week of spring training games. He's started all but one game at third base this spring.

"I grew up playing the infield and it's been a nice homecoming for me to come back and play there again," said Mather, who received a bit of a break when manager Tony La Russa gave the club Wednesday off, when there was no scheduled spring game.

Mather spent most of the last two seasons in the minor leagues, interrupted by a stint with the Cardinals in the outfield or at first base last season.

He was 3-for-4 in Tuesday's win over the Mets after a slow start at the plate this spring.

Glaus hit .270 with 27 home runs last season, his first in St. Louis. La Russa said he is progressing well, but it still isn't known when he'll be ready to play.

"Up until I found out Troy was hurt, third base wasn't really on the map for me," Mather said. "It was just every once in a while go play it, but nothing like it has been recently."

Intense competition was expected, but so far hasn't materialized. Utility man Brendan Ryan, who's played in 29 major league games at third, is battling tendinitis in his wrist. He entered his first game of the spring Monday, but has yet to record a plate appearance.

David Freese, the starting third baseman for Class AAA Memphis in 2008, also entered the spring banged up after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in a car accident. Freese saw his first plate appearance of the spring Tuesday.

"I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there," Freese said. "It's definitely going to be in the near future."

Mather hit .241 in 133 at-bats with the Cardinals last year, and is a career .258 hitter with 103 home runs in the minor leagues.

At 6 foot 4, he has shown surprising agility in the field, La Russa said. It has helped that he's been taking extra ground balls during infield drills and batting practice.

"I think his actions have been very natural looking," La Russa said, "He's a tall guy, but he doesn't move like a tall guy."

Mather said, "I'm more comfortable than I thought I was going to be. It feels good to work out [at third base]. There's a lot more going on. It's a lot more intense because it happens a lot quicker."

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