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04/26/00 6:45 PM ET

Notes: Cards start out with 23

Duncan got stitches, Hancock overslept before Reds game

ST. LOUIS -- Before the Cardinals' game against the Reds on Thursday afternoon, there were only 23 players in the clubhouse.

One, Chris Duncan, was getting stitches and the other, Josh Hancock, was in bed.

Duncan was originally in the lineup for Thursday's game but was a last-minute scratch, because he didn't make it to Busch Stadium in time after receiving 12 stitches on the top of his head.

The 6-foot-5 Duncan hit his head while going down some stairs in his apartment building early Thursday morning. He came to the stadium and had it looked at by team trainer Barry Weinberg. The trainer then sent Duncan over to head team physician Dr. George Paletta to get the stitches.

"I was in a hurry this morning and kind of jogging down the hall and I tried to just jump down the stairs, and I clipped my head on the corner of the roof where it comes down," Duncan said.

Duncan got to the stadium minutes before first pitch at 12:10 p.m. CT, thanks to some traffic on the highway. The left-handed slugger came in as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and led off the inning with a double.

"It doesn't hurt as bad as you would think it does," Duncan said. "It just kind of split open. I felt like I could play, I just didn't get here in time."

Skip Schumaker took Duncan's place in left field and took advantage of the opportunity, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs.

"He was ready to go, but he literally walked into the ballpark with 10 minutes to go, so we went with Schumaker," manager Tony La Russa said.

Hancock's adventures were far less exciting. The right-handed reliever just overslept and didn't receive numerous phone calls from teammates, because his phone wasn't working. Hancock said he's fine, he just lost track of time. Hancock arrived right before the game, similar to Duncan.

It was a brief scary moment for the Cardinals as they have dealt with tragedy before, with a pitcher not showing up to the ballpark. Five years ago, Darryl Kile was scheduled to start a game at Wrigley Field, but never made it to the park after passing away in his hotel room.

"That's why it's so different here, because of what happened," closer Jason Isringhausen said. "We were a little nervous. That's why when he got here, everybody asked if everything was OK. He said, 'Yes.' We could [not care less] if you're late -- that happens. But we were just making sure that he was OK. And he was fine, so that's good."

La Russa on Hancock: "It's not worth discussing -- just leave it at that."

Rolen along: Scott Rolen knows that sometimes it's good to be lucky.

A combination of luck and better at-bats has helped the third baseman's average climb from .200 to .290 in the last three games.

"I'm seeing the ball a little better and I'm more comfortable at the plate," Rolen said. "But, I'm also having a little luck."

In Tuesday's series opener against Cincinnati, Rolen blooped a double down the right-field line that barely stayed fair. The next night, he did the same thing down the left-field line, also resulting in a double.

Although a couple of breaks have gone Rolen's way lately, he also has had some harder-hit balls and is in the midst of an 8-for-12 surge over the last three games. He went 5-for-6 in the series finale against the Cubs, and followed that up with another multihit game against the Reds his next time out. He had just two multihit games in his previous 13 games.

La Russa said Rolen's recent hot streak will help out the entire lineup, including Albert Pujols, who normally bats in front of Rolen.

"He's our main protection for Albert, so it will help out that," La Russa said. "It helps everybody though. For all of us, it's the sooner the better, and I'm glad with him it's been sooner."

Rolen battled a bout of food poisoning earlier in the season and also dealt with a sore upper back. He said he feels healthy now and is starting to get settled in, although he didn't think he was having bad at-bats to start.

"I feel like I was swinging the bat well to start, but I'm swinging better now," Rolen said. "I wouldn't say I was wearing guys out, but I was having some good at-bats and hitting some hard balls."

La Russa said he wasn't worried about his third baseman and knew it was just a matter of time before the hits came.

"That's just how the season goes -- sometimes you start slow," La Russa said. "If you're good, you're going to get your base hits and be where you're supposed to be at the end of the season.

Duncan scratched: Left fielder Chris Duncan was a last-minute scratch Thursday. Skip Schumaker took Duncan's spot in the lineup and hit second. Duncan entered Thursday batting .333 with four home runs and eight RBIs.

Lefties loaded: The entire Cardinals bullpen has been solid in the early going, but the two left-handed relievers, Tyler Johnson and Randy Flores have been nearly perfect.

Flores allowed the first run between the two lefties Wednesday, but picked up the win, going 1 1/3 innings. Before that, Johnson and Flores had gone 15 1/3 innings without allowing a run.

"The two lefties have been special," La Russa said. "We don't end up having the postseason we did without them last year. They worked hard all winter and came in with a lot of confidence and have been very effective."

In Spring Training, Johnson experimented with a sinker, but has gone mostly with his four-seam fastball.

"You always want to do a little different than you did the year before to give the hitters something new to look at," La Russa said. "He hasn't ditched it; he's working it into games little by little."

Eck gets a rest: Shortstop David Eckstein wasn't in the lineup Thursday. Aaron Miles took his spot in the lineup and batted leadoff.

"It's not really a day off for David; it's a game for Aaron Miles," La Russa said. "He has to play some."

La Russa said Miles will probably be back in the lineup, playing second base, Sunday night against the Cubs. Lefty Rich Hill will take the mound for the Cubs, creating an opportunity to rest normal second baseman Adam Kennedy.

No BP hats: Most of the Cardinals have ditched the new batting practice hats that were introduced throughout baseball this spring. Clubhouse manager Rip Rowan said there are still a few players who sport the new-style cap, but most are wearing the game hats for BP. According to Rowan, many veterans didn't like the flex-fit hats, preferring the traditional hats.

Baby 'Birds: Triple-A Memphis had the day off Wednesday and returned to action Thursday against Iowa. ... Double-A Springfield beat Wichita, 4-3, behind a strong performance from third baseman Juan Richardson. Richardson went 2-for-4 with a home run and one RBI. Juan Encarnacion made his second start in Springfield as the DH. He batted leadoff and went 1-for-5 with an RBI groundout. In two games, he's 1-for-8. ... Class A Palm Beach lost to Daytona, 7-2. Cubs starter Sean Marshall was on a rehab assignment for Daytona and handled the Cardinals lineup. Catcher Danilo Sanchez went 1-for-2 and had a home run off of Marshall. ... Class A Quad Cities also had the day off.

Coming up: The Cards will open a three-game series with the Cubs on Friday. Former Cardinal Jason Marquis will take the mound for the Cubs while the Cards will counter with righty Anthony Reyes, who is looking for his first win of the season. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT.

Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.