Notes: Winds change Villone's plans
La Russa not worried about defense; no-go on Ponson
JUPITER, Fla. -- On a day like Saturday, Ron Villone knew it was going to be tough to work on some of the things he'd planned to work on.
With winds blowing out to right in excess of 20 mph and wind gusts stronger than that, it was not a good day to pitch at Roger Dean Stadium. Winds were also swirling during the early innings, like in old Candlestick Park on a typical day.
"With the conditions, sometimes you can't work on a pitch that moves one way. The wind is blowing across your face, so it's kind of hard to throw a four-seam fastball, you just hope the two-seam works," Villone said. "Not what I wanted, but when a day like this happens, where things get kind of ugly and snowball, I was glad I got to get back out there and get another inning."
Villone, a 38-year-old non-roster invitee, gave up four unearned runs on two walks and two hits in a sloppy third inning before going back out and retiring Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Delwyn Young in order in the fourth.
That second frame is the kind of effort the Cardinals are hoping Villone can provide in the coming season.
A workhorse who has averaged 44 appearances per season during his 13-year career, the New Jersey native has been looking good this spring. With the Cardinals short on left-handed relievers, Villone has an excellent shot at making the team.
"He's been throwing the ball well," manager Tony La Russa said. "We signed him because we think he's a guy who can help us."
For his career, Villone has a 55-57 record with a 4.76 ERA. He's pitched 1,069 1/3 innings in 580 games and has recorded six saves. In 2007 he put up a 4.25 ERA in 42 1/3 innings (37 appearances) for New York. He struck out 25 and walked 18.
Over the past three seasons, Villone held left-handed hitters to a .210 batting average, a .304 on-base percentage and a .303 slugging percentage in 290 at-bats.
"I know where I need to be a week to 10 days before the season starts," Villone said. "You want to be able to pitch back-to-back games early. You want to be able to go multiple innings. I'm still building [to that], still got room to get better."
Any advice for pitching in windy conditions?
"I'm going to guess staying focused on the mound," he said. "When the wind blows sand or grit in our face, you've got to know to step off and take your time. You never know what Mother Nature is going to do to you."
Defense not a concern: The Cardinals committed three errors in a 20-6 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday, including two by shortstop Cesar Izturis.
"[It was] just that kind of game," La Russa said. "A couple of guys handled themselves all right, but for most of us, it was a tough day."
The Cardinals had the second-lowest fielding percentage in the National League last season (.980), and La Russa is looking for improvement in that area this season. The Cards have committed 14 errors in 11 Grapefruit League games thus far -- four by Izturis -- but La Russa is not concerned about the team defense or his shortstop's.
"If you live by stats, you wouldn't even have to evaluate anything, just look at the numbers and make a decision," he said. "[Izturis is] moving well; a couple of the errors have not been balls he should have played. He's had some good at-bats. He hasn't had as many good ones as he needs to have, so we're expecting that to improve. I'm not too concerned about his defense.
"I think we're going to be an improved defensive club, and I've seen all the reasons to back that up, no matter what a day in Spring Training might show somebody else. I see the work there, and I see the improvement coming."
No-go on Ponson: The Cardinals were impressed by what they saw of free agent Sidney Ponson during a workout on Thursday but have decided against pursuing the right-hander.
"He was impressive, but in our camp we've got guys coming where we need help now," La Russa said. "Getting [Ponson] into shape does not make sense for our club. We just don't have the innings for somebody like that, [it's] just not a good opportunity for him if he chose us. But I understand he was impressive and [for] a club that's looking for more protection down the road, he'd be a good fit."
Ponson, 31, hasn't appeared in a Major League game since May 12, 2007. He was 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA in seven starts for the Twins last year. In 10 seasons, he owns a 82-101 career record with a 4.94 ERA. He won 17 games for Baltimore and San Francisco in 2003, and 11 games for the Orioles in 2004.
Duncan sidelined: Chris Duncan was not in the lineup again on Saturday and will be held out of Sunday's game because of a back problem.
"Back stiffened up a little bit," La Russa said. "If he feels better, he'll play Monday.
Duncan is batting .083 (1-for-12) and hasn't played since Wednesday.
Extra bases: Pitching coach Dave Duncan will stay in Jupiter on Sunday when the team travels to Disney's Wide World of Sports in order to watch right-hander Matt Clement throw. Clement is also scheduled to throw on the side on Monday. ... Troy Glaus went 2-for-2 on Saturday to boost his batting average to .412.
Quotable: "There's no better player in Major League Baseball. We have a shot if we can keep him in the lineup." -- La Russa, on Albert Pujols
Weather report: The clouds are supposed to be gone by game time on Sunday, when the Cardinals take on Atlanta in Lake Buena Vista. But it will still be unseasonably cool, with game-time temperature expected to be 59 degrees and winds out of the north at 11 mph.
On deck: Anthony Reyes starts for St. Louis as the Cardinals open the two-game "Florida Turnpike" series on Sunday against Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT. Clayton Mortensen, Jason Isringhausen, Ryan Franklin and Ron Flores are also expected to pitch for the Cardinals. Right-hander Tim Hudson is the probable starter for Atlanta.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.