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03/31/08 6:25 PM ET

Cards' outfield trio starts first opener

Slugger Duncan expected to play regularly vs. righties

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals trotted out three first-time Opening Day starters in their outfield on Monday, and a fourth potential candidate may get his first Major League start over the weekend. A relatively interchangeable group offers a slew of combinations for manager Tony La Russa to call upon as the season goes on.

Rick Ankiel started in center field, flanked by Skip Schumaker in left and Ryan Ludwick in right. None of the three had ever gotten the call to start on Opening Day before. Chris Duncan, the only outfielder on the roster who has started an opener, will play frequently. Brian Barton, on a Major League roster for the first time, may play sparingly, but still will see time.

"We have five guys who can play a lot in the big leagues, and that's a good thing," Schumaker said.

Ankiel is the closest thing to an everyday player in the group. He'll be the primary center fielder, and likely will see extensive playing time against both left- and right-handed pitchers. Schumaker and Duncan will play the most on the corners against right-handers.

Ludwick, a right-handed hitter, has shown a reverse-platoon split in the Major Leagues. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are all higher against right-handers. Still, his best chance to play will come against lefties.

"I didn't hit them great last year, but in the Minor Leagues I've had success off of them," Ludwick said. "I'm out to prove I can hit lefties a little bit. If I can do that, things will turn out all right, because I hit righties fine last year."

Barton may be the fifth man in a five-man scramble, but manager Tony La Russa still expects the Rule 5 Draftee to get his chances.

"According to his ability and what he's shown, he would be an excellent guy off the bench," La Russa said. "He would be a wonderful pinch-hitter. He's got a high on-base percentage, he runs well, he hits rights as well as lefts. But I'm not going to relegate him to the bench all season long, so there will be some starts for him."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.