Slumping Grudzielanek has his health

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Even with a 2-for-19 slump that earned him a day off Tuesday, Mark Grudzielanek's salary-drive season is off to a good start with the Cardinals.

Grudzielanek, who signed a one-year, $1 million free agent deal as the replacement to departed second baseman Tony Womack, was just off the NL leaders with a .320 average along with three home runs and 17 RBIs. He's been a plus defensively, too.

"I think he's played very well," manager Tony La Russa said.

Grudzielanek, 34, still needs to satisfy the team, though, that he can stay on the field all season. He missed more than two months last season with the Cubs, sidelined by an Achilles heel injury, and he missed a month in 2003 with a broken hand.

"I don't really feel like it's a situation where they're worried about what I do on the field," Grudzielanek said. "I think it's more about health.

"The last few years I've had fluke injuries and, knock on wood, the strained Achilles hasn't bothered me. Still, it's just one of those things where I need to have a healthy year for myself to set the table for next year."

Grudzielanek still doesn't know where the Achilles injury came from. The day after playing a 15-inning game in Atlanta on the fifth game of the season, he was suddenly hobbled.

"I woke up the next day and fell on my face," Grudzielanek said. "I didn't feel like it was a quick thing or a specific play or step."

Already, Grudzielanek has hit plenty of high notes. He became the first Cardinals player to hit for the cycle in nine years, doing it in his first four at-bats April 27 against the Brewers. He was tied for the NL lead with seven three-hit games, and tied his career best with four RBIs against the Mets on May 14.

Grudzielanek, who got his 1,500th career hit last week, was batting .368 in the Cardinals' 28 victories, and he's produced in five lineup spots. That includes leadoff when David Eckstein gets a day off.

Grudzielanek planned to take a constructive approach to his day off, taking infield to stay sharp in the field and studying tape to perhaps get a clue why he's been jumpy at the plate lately. In the two games prior to his slump, he was 5-for-8 with two RBIs.

Grudzielanek said he didn't want the day off, but said he guessed it was a good thing. "I want to be out there; the only way to get your way out of it is to hit your way out of it, and it's just a matter of getting comfortable again," he said.

La Russa thought Grudzielanek just needed a rest, period, regardless of his slump at the plate.

"He's in one of those spells where balls aren't dropping," La Russa said. "But he's sitting today because he's been playing a lot of baseball. He's making contact and he'll be in there tomorrow."

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