Freese springs into action for Cards

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The St. Louis third baseman had two hits and three RBIs in an exhibition win against Minnesota

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- David Freese played third base, ran the bases and had a big day at the plate. Not bad for his first game since a pair of ankle surgeries.

Freese had two hits and three RBIs in St. Louis' 10-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday, an encouraging sign during a rough spring for the Cardinals.

"It felt good to get out there," Freese said. "To be honest, I could have gone 0 for 3 or 0 for 4, and I would have felt the same way. I feel good right now. I just have to keep progressing. The basepaths is what the key is. I just have to keep pushing myself, running around the bases."

Freese's ankle problems started with a 2009 car crash. During last season's second ankle-related minor league rehab stint, he turned his right ankle badly enough to require reconstructive surgery in August. A month later, he had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left ankle.

Freese hit .294 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 70 games last season. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said it was good to write Freese's name in the lineup again, and he also plans to do it on Opening Day.

"He had good execution," La Russa said. "It was his first time out there in a long time. If he's healthy, then he's our third baseman. He will be."

Health has been a problem this spring for St. Louis, which already lost starter Adam Wainwright for the year to right elbow surgery and will be without utilityman Nick Punto (sports hernia) at the start of the season. Ace Chris Carpenter tweaked his left hamstring during a spring start last week and felt it again during a throwing session Sunday, forcing the Cardinals to scratch him from his scheduled start.

La Russa is preaching patience when it comes to Carpenter, who went 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA last season.

"As long as he's able to do all his exercises, we're OK," La Russa said. "We've just got to get him 100 percent-plus, in my opinion. I'd send him out there Opening Day if his arm was sound and his leg was sound with zero innings. He's got a wealth of experience and competitive fire in his gut. But the whole key is get him healthy and we'll go from there, whenever that is."

Twins closer Joe Nathan had reconstructive right elbow surgery last March but is off to a nice start this spring. He worked the fifth against St. Louis for his third consecutive hitless inning.

Jake Westbrook allowed one run and four hits in 3 2/3 innings for the Cardinals. The 33-year-old right-hander made 33 starts last season for Cleveland and St. Louis after being sidelined for much of the previous two years due to reconstructive elbow surgery.

"Last year I was coming off not having pitched a big league ballgame, as it were, in 18 months," Westbrook said. "Now I'm going out there and concentrating on getting ready for the year and not worrying about my arm.

"I'm out there concentrating on putting the ball where I want to. After what I've gone through in '08 and '09 to not have to worry about your arm, that's a huge weight off your mind. You can concentrate on other aspects of being a good pitcher."

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