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04/20/08 3:03 PM ET

Washington hoping to improve with bat

La Russa finding spots for Cardinals utility player

ST. LOUIS -- Rico Washington overcame long odds to make the Cardinals' Opening Day roster after toiling for 11 years in the Minors. Count on him to show the same resiliency as he strives to reward the trust of manager Tony La Russa.

Although it has been a struggle at the plate thus far, Washington is up for the challenge of showing that just reaching the Major Leagues isn't enough. The dream of making it to The Show has given way to the grim reality of Tim Lincecum's fastballs. But Washington remains undaunted by a 2-for-17 start at the plate.

Both of his starts have come at third base against San Francisco's Lincecum, who is tough for anybody to hit. Grateful that La Russa has kept him in the loop with those 17 at-bats through the opening 18 games, Washington believes it's only a matter of time before he delivers offensively as well as defensively while working as a utility infielder.

"It hasn't gone the way I wanted it to go, but there's a lot of baseball left," Washington said. "Hopefully, I will get things going my way. But the most important thing is that we're winning. We have a great chemistry in this clubhouse."

With infielder Brendan Ryan on the disabled list, La Russa is counting on Washington to provide stable defense as a backup infielder who can handle multiple positions.

"He has sure hands and a nice accurate arm," La Russa said.

La Russa figures to keep picking his spots for Washington with the dual purpose of providing periodic rest for his starting infielders while trying to keep Washington as sharp as possible.

"Managers have different philosophies, but I've been taught that it's a long season and everybody has to contribute. You can't expect them to contribute if they don't have timing," La Russa said. "You aren't going to compete out there with nine or 10 guys. Everybody has to play enough to where they have some sharpness."

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