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04/08/08 8:05 PM ET

Schumaker back at the top

Outfielder returns to starting lineup, leadoff spot vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- Skip Schumaker spent the past four days putting in extra time in the batting cage and the video room, trying to get things right. But he also wanted to make sure he didn't change too much.

Thanks to an 0-for-15 season-opening slump, as well as a run of four consecutive games opposing left-handed starters, Schumaker hasn't started since Thursday. He has appeared in every game as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement, but he's had extra time to try to sort himself out. On Tuesday, Schumaker was back in the starting lineup, and back in the leadoff spot.

"I've been working with Aldo [assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete] every day, and Mac [hitting coach Hal McRae]," Schumaker said. "I don't think I've changed much. I think it's just trying to get through this little funk and kind of go back to the basics. I think it's a combination of stuff. It's mind games. It's a little bit physical. But mainly just relaxing and believing in yourself and not trying to force it."

Manager Tony La Russa still views Schumaker the same way in the long run that he did coming out of Spring Training. Schumaker is the Cardinals' leadoff man and one of their primary outfielders. Even if he's not an everyday player -- among the flycatchers, only Rick Ankiel will likely start more than four or five times a week -- Schumaker is a key piece for La Russa.

"I'm confident that he's our best leadoff man," La Russa said. "I'm hoping that he gets something going. I don't even think it's a close call. I think he's our best leadoff man by far. The sooner he can get himself [going], the better off we are."

To Schumaker's credit, he's drawn four walks and only struck out once during his slump. He's even scored two runs. And as he pointed out, an 0-for-15 in April gets a lot more attention than an 0-for-15 in July, because the batting average on the scoreboard shows all zeros at this time of year.

Still, he needs some results, and the sooner they start coming, the better.

"I think he's just got to go back to what he did the first three games," La Russa said. "He took terrific at-bats, put the ball in play many times sharply and just couldn't get a hit. You've just got to fight human nature, where you get distracted into thinking, 'I have to get a hit,' because you can't do that in this league."

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