JUPITER, Fla. -- Long left out of Cardinals Spring Training, Ozzie Smith returned on Saturday once again feeling like an embraced member of the organization. He also arrived ready to work.
Despite Smith's regular attendance at the Cardinals' ceremonial events since his retirement after the 1996 season, the Hall of Fame shortstop never felt welcome to assist former manager Tony La Russa as a guest instructor during Spring Training. The strain in that relationship stemmed from La Russa's decision to give Royce Clayton the starting shortstop job over Smith in La Russa's first year managing in St. Louis.
Smith retired at the end of that year, and the tension between La Russa and Smith never subsided.
But new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny reached out to Smith this winter to offer the invitation for Smith to return. Smith, who has helped out as an instructor at other Major League camps since retiring, welcomed the opportunity to resume an active role in an organization that he played in for 15 seasons.
"It's been kind of a strange deal because I'm there Opening Day, I've been invited [for special events], I've been part of the organization from that standpoint," Smith said. "It's just this part that was lacking. I haven't been completely out of the loop. It's just been the active baseball stuff.
"Hopefully that's all behind us now and we can move forward and get it back to where it's supposed to be."
Added Matheny: "There's wisdom for everybody to tap into."
Smith's stay will last for a week. He will be working primarily with infielders and will assist in baserunning instruction. Smith is a 13-time Gold Glove Award winner and ranks third in Cardinals history with 433 stolen bases.
"When the opportunity presents itself again, you have to be ready to step into it, and here I am," Smith said. "I thank them for the opportunity to be able to come out here and put the uniform on. It's really like coming home."
Lilliquist using Duncan's approach with pitchers
JUPITER, Fla. -- While Dave Duncan's absence is notable because of how long he was a regular presence in the Cardinals' dugout, he continues to have an impact through the routine he left behind.
Pitchers who were schooled under the club's former pitching coach have noted early in Spring Training that the transition to working with Duncan's successor, Derek Lilliquist, has been nearly seamless. Lilliquist told pitchers early on that he would try to keep much the same and utilize the system that Duncan had implemented.
It helps, too, that any tenured member of the organization arrived in Florida already familiar with their new pitching coach. Lilliquist, who was the Cardinals' bullpen coach last season, is now in his 11th year with the organization.
"It's really hard to replace a guy like Duncan, who is the best pitching coach of all time," said Jaime Garcia, who threw his first live session of batting practice, under Lilliquist's watch, on Saturday. "But I think we're in a really good spot with Lilliquist. He's a great guy, and he knows a lot about the game of baseball. He's going to help a lot."
Lilliquist has not needed to make too much of an imprint on the Cardinals' starting five, given how much experience is already accounted for in that rotation. The starters' familiarity with this spring process and their ability to push one another has apparently already left an impression.
"The five starters right now look as good as anybody out here," manager Mike Matheny said. "Even in the weight room this morning, they're getting that healthy competition. I just don't think you can put a price tag on how much that helps them individually and how that helps them push each other. Right now, I think they look great."
Cardinals open Minor League minicamp
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals opened their Minor League minicamp on Saturday with 26 participants, all of whom were invited to begin their Spring Training workouts early. Actual Minor League Spring Training won't commence for another nine days.
Six of the 11 Minor League pitchers took the mound for a bullpen session on Saturday, including highly touted right-hander Carlos Martinez. Ranked by MLB.com as the Cardinals' second-best prospect, Martinez made 18 appearances between the two Class A levels last year. He finished with a 6-5 record and a 3.93 ERA.
Other notable participants in this minicamp include outfielders Oscar Taveras, Charlie Tilson and C.J. McElroy, as well as infielder Kenneth Peoples-Walls and pitchers Samuel Gaviglio, Michael Blazek and Justin Wright.
The purpose of holding these early workouts is multi-fold. It allows these players the chance to see how Major League camp is run and to interact with some of the coaches from the Major League staff. The players will also participate in some classroom-type sessions, one of which will focus on how to handle interviews with the media.
Right-hander Chris Carpenter threw another side session on Saturday instead of moving on to throwing live batting practice. That is not reason for concern, though. Because of Carpenter's workload in 2011, the Cardinals are being overly cautious and slowing down Carpenter's progression this spring.
Another 10 pitchers threw their first session of live batting practice on Saturday, including starters Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse. Relievers Mitchell Boggs, J.C. Romero and Eduardo Sanchez were also participants. Jake Westbrook is on tap to throw live batting practice during Sunday's workouts.
Manager Mike Matheny remains a regular in the rotation of batting practice pitchers. And he intends to continue to do so. "Until somebody explains a different reason to me, I'm going to keep throwing," he joked on Saturday.
Both Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal were spotted taking vocal leadership roles in their respective workout groups. Beltran addressed his fellow outfielders during outfield drills, while Furcal shared some thoughts about basestealing leads and jumps before former Cardinal Willie McGee arrived to offer his insight as a guest instructor.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.