Hamilton Tries To Overcome Injuries

Cardinal bat has a chance to hit in the big leagues





ST. LOUIS—With seemingly every extra-base he hit propelling Triple-A Memphis toward the playoffs, Mark Hamilton recognized the downside to that gush of offense.

"I really, really like when the games matter more," said Hamilton, who hit .400/.447/.925 in the final 10 Triple-A games of 2010. "That's a good thing. And that's a bad thing. In the middle of the year, there are the lulls, everybody has lulls, and it's a matter of maturing as a player to not get stuck in those lulls. At the end you're playing for the postseason, you're playing to get somewhere."

Hamilton would benefit from playing more. The brawny first baseman, a second-round selection out of Tulane in 2006, has had the past three seasons strangled by injuries. He hit 20 homers for the first time in a season in 2010, yet he did so in 285 total at-bats. He cranked 19 in 469 at-bats in 2007—the last season without time on the disabled list. In 2008, Hamilton busted his wrist. In 2009, he strained a groin. And last season, he was limited by a thumb injury.

He returned to Triple-A in time to hit .298/.389/.585 in 72 games and help power Memphis to the Pacific Coast League championship series. The first baseman had 60 RBIs and 38 extra-base hits in those 72 games. That earned a September call-up and kept his spot on the 40-man roster for 2010.

To avoid injuries, Hamilton has spent the past couple of offseasons working to increase his fitness and flexibility. He has slimmed down, but not at the expense of strength. This winter, Hamilton moved back to New Orleans to be near Tulane's facilities. He had a short stint in winter ball from 2009-2010, and part of the purpose was to claim innings in the outfield. As a first baseman, he's blocked by the best hitter in the majors, and to overcome that problem he's got to find a new position or attract a new team.

Hamilton has past experience in the outfield, but he's working on his foot speed and agility to become more fluid. If he can stay healthy, he has the power to make a move.

REDBIRD CHIRPS

• Allen Craig will revisit his roots this spring. Craig, an outfielder during his cameo big league appearances, will get innings at third base, auditioning to be a backup at the position. Craig won the organization's player of the year award in 2009 while mostly playing third base.

• Infielder Tyler Greene approached the Cardinals about playing winter ball to get added at-bats and innings as he preps for a pivotal spring training. Greene, a first-round pick in 2005, will get a shot at a utility role in the majors.