Furcal hoping for opening day start

Furcal hoping for opening day start

Credit: Getty Images

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 16: Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals fields a one hopper against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium on August 16, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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AP

Posted on February 23, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 28 at 12:57 AM

(AP) — St. Louis shortstop Rafael Furcal and his injured elbow may not be ready for Saturday's first game of spring training.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny insists that shouldn't be much of a concern.

"We still have a few days to figure that out," Matheny said. "He still hasn't let it go yet so it's going to be hard to put him out there in a situation where he has to go to his backhand deep in the hole. We know he's not ready for that."

Furcal is working his way back from a strained elbow ligament suffered near the end of last season. There was a concern that he'd have to undergo Tommy John surgery, but Furcal chose to try rehab instead.

When healthy, Furcal has one of the strongest arms among major league shortstops. Doctors have him on a plan where he's still working up to throwing the ball at maximum velocity. He's participated in Cardinals fielding drills since position players reported on Friday, working on turning double plays on Monday.

From what Matheny has seen so far, he's expecting Furcal to be ready to start the season.

"I'm not going to have too much of a panic," he said. "We watched him really take his time last year. He showed up the first day of the season ready to go. That's what I'm expecting again."

A 13- year veteran, Furcal hit .264 in 121 games for the Cardinals last season, batting primarily in the leadoff spot.

When Furcal went down last season, the Cardinals turned to former first round pick Pete Kozma. After hitting only .232 at Class AAA Memphis, Kozma responded with a .333 average in 26 games down the stretch and performed solidly in the field. His average dipped to .214 in the playoffs.

Kozma is once again in Cardinals camp, but St. Louis also signed eight-year veteran Ronny Cedeno in the offseason to a one-year deal as insurance.

Most recently with the Mets, Cedeno actually factors into the other position of concern in Cardinals' camp. He's one of three players, along with Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter, looking to get the opening day start at second base. Descalso started 66 games at second last season, and Skip Schumaker and Tyler Greene are no longer with the organization.

A slick fielder, Descalso only hit .227 last season, but that average rose to .247 in the final month of the season. He attributes the late success to a shortened swing and believes that if he can continue to swing the bat well in Jupiter, the everyday job at second will be his.

"I think I've proven that I can play defense at this level," Descalso said. "I think that if I can go out there and hit, I should be the guy out there."

A corner infielder and outfielder coming through the Cardinals system, Carpenter started a couple games at second base last season. In an effort to get his potent bat in the line-up more often St. Louis is having Carpenter work at second base during the spring.

His offseason improvement as a middle infielder impressed Matheny.

"The guy busted his butt," Matheny said. "He had to completely learn how to field the position. Now he goes out there and looks very natural. He did what he needed to do."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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