Counting On Craig

Lugo's departure gives rookie a spot





ST. LOUIS—By dealing veteran infielder Julio Lugo to Baltimore on the last day of spring training the Cardinals did more than avoid a tough call on their roster. They confirmed a not-so-subtle shift on their bench.

Lugo's departure meant outfielders Allen Craig, Joe Mather and Nick Stavinoha all made their first Opening Day major league rosters, and for Craig it was the first time he'd ever been on the 25-man roster. The Cardinals have favored and leaned on a bench that often featured seasoned players, like Aaron Miles and Scott Spiezio. Manager Tony La Russa has also utilized platoons at a variety of positions, a preference that he believes helps keep his bench sharp by getting even his backbenchers at-bats.

This year could be the different.

"This is not a real easy team to find playing for the bench," La Russa said. "It's something we'll have to work on."

The Cardinals' top-heavy payroll and relatively static starting lineup has continued the process of the team relying more and more on the minor league system to provide complementary players. For Craig, Mather and Stavinoha, the bend in philosophy opened up an opportunity. But for each it also means getting used to a role that only promises sporadic playing time.

REDBIRD CHIRPS

• Shelby Miller, the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2009, opened the season in the low Class A Quad Cities rotation. Miller pitched in two games there late last fall, and he'll be united there with second-round pick Robert Stock, a catcher. The battery could advance to high Class A Palm Beach by the end of the season.

• For the moment, outfielder Amaury Cazana, the Cuban who the Cardinals selected in the 2006 draft, has made the Triple-A roster. The previous two seasons Cazana has been loaned to a Mexican League team, where he's been a .363/.431/.583 hitter in his career. Cazana, 31, will offer righthanded power for Memphis, and his playing time will vary depending on the outfielders the Cardinals wish to get at-bats for development.