07/16/10 8:41 PM ET
By Michael Bleach / MLB.com
La Russa juggles Cards' options in right field
ST. LOUIS -- With Ryan Ludwick predicted to miss at least the rest of the eight-game homestand, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa faces a question he has trended toward answering one way in his managing career: Play the precocious rookies or turn to a veteran for help?
La Russa has the option to platoon left-hander Jon Jay and right-hander Allen Craig for Ludwick's right-field spot, or he can plug in veteran Randy Winn for several games while Ludwick recovers from a calf strain. Jay has been on fire since being recalled from Triple-A Memphis in early July, hitting .519 and slugging .889 in nine games this month. Craig was on a similar tear in Memphis, hitting .308 with a .520 slugging percentage while driving in 65 runs in 67 games.
Winn has hit .246 with a .333 slugging in 27 games since being signed by the Cardinals in early June.
For at least one day, La Russa turned to the veteran outfielder, inserting Winn in the five-hole against Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley on Friday.
Although La Russa has often relied on veterans during these situations throughout his career, he cautioned reading too much into one game of Winn.
"I had started out the series thinking that Jay would play the three [games]," La Russa said of right-handed starters.
"But if you can, you have to give a [bench guy] a chance to play when they are going against someone they have past history. Randy has been successful. If he is going to play a game on this homestand, this is the one to give it to him."
In 31 previous plate appearances against Billingsley, Winn hit .440 with a .517 on-base percentage. He delivered immediately on Friday, lacing a two-run triple in the first inning.
Status of Penny's return on shaky ground
ST. LOUIS -- One day after Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said there was no timetable set for starter Brad Penny's return, manager Tony La Russa didn't sound too optimistic Friday he would be playing the big right-hander soon.
In fact, he didn't sound certain of anything.
"I know the attitude is not to push it," La Russa said of Penny. "I have no good or bad expectations. No expectations.
"He can't go 100 percent."
When Penny went to the disabled list near the end of May with a strained lat muscle, it was widely assumed he would see the mound before fellow injured starter Kyle Lohse would, with Lohse undergoing surgery for exertional compartment syndrome in early June.
Now, Lohse appearing first has become more and more of a real possibility.
"I think you can at least ask the question," La Russa said of whether Lohse will pitch again before Penny. "I don't know how to answer, but that wouldn't have been worse asking before. I don't know the answer, but now it is worth asking."
The uncertainty surrounding Penny could impact Mozeliak as he searches for a trading partner before the Trade Deadline passes on July 31. With only three reliable innings eaters in the rotation -- and one of them a rookie -- the Redbirds may need to land another starting arm to win their battle with the Reds for the National League Central crown.
Neither La Russa nor Mozeliak were willing to give away any details.
"I know he is trying to do what is best for the club," La Russa said of Mozeliak.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa won his 2,600th career game on Thursday with the 7-1 victory over the Dodgers. "No idea, totally surprised by it," La Russa said. ... La Russa on former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passing away Tuesday: "I think if the idea is to have your best chance to win, he was committed to the best chance to win." ... With the British Open on TV in La Russa's office, the Cardinals skipper said it was on his "bucket list" to play St. Andrews.
Michael Bleach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.