JUPITER, Fla. (AP) -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has one suggestion for Colby Rasmus, his young, emerging center fielder: Do not get comfortable.
"It's a tougher year," La Russa said Tuesday. "Last year he came like he wants to play in the big leagues. He didn't have a spot on the club. He had to work hard every day and play well and earn a spot.
"This year he's got to be careful that he doesn't take his year in the big leagues and think it's automatic."
La Russa told Rasmus to follow National League MVP Albert Pujols' lead.
"Albert's attitude is the one," said La Russa. "He comes every spring to make the club. It's just a way of reminding himself to start at zero and build from there. If Colby does that, he'll be fine."
The 24-year-old Rasmus hit .251 with a .307 on base percentage and played steady defense in his first big league season in 2009. But he was headed for a much better season before slumping the last 11 weeks. Rasmus was hitting .288 with a .330 OBP on July 7. But he fought through a hernia and heel injury that sapped both his strength and stamina, something he has focused on building throughout the offseason.
Still, the Cardinals saw enough that they decided against bringing back free agent Rick Ankiel, who signed with Kansas City.
"Those last couple of months I was worn down and I think some of it had to do with early in the season, not really saving something in the tank, just going after it hard and not thinking what was gong to happen late in the season," said Rasmus.
Rasmus blamed some of that on an intense spring in which he was trying to win a job. This spring and offseason he spent more time in the weight room and has paid more attention to nutrition.
Rasmus gives La Russa options in a lineup featuring Pujols, Matt Holliday and Ryan Ludwick in the middle. He likes Rasmus as the No. 2 hitter, but he may opt to bat him lower considering Rasmus and leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker hit left handed.
But whether he's setting the table for the middle of the order or in a position to drive in runs, Rasmus is anxious to start the season.
"I can't wait to get it started," he said. "Getting Holliday back is huge, especially him batting behind Albert and being there that whole season. Last year when he came up and we had that long stretch we were just pounding away, it seemed like we couldn't lose.
"I just got to get on base and run, run as fast as I can and get around the bases."
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