La Russa Wants Production

Friday, March 16th 2007, 11:03 am
By: News On 6

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) _ Entering his 10th season, Preston Wilson believes his track record is long enough that there's no need to prove himself in spring training.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa begs to differ. Though Wilson has a $1 million contract after helping St. Louis win its first World Series championship in 24 years, La Russa would like to see tangible results.

``I just know it's not a productive comment to say I have a long swing so I have bad spring trainings,'' La Russa said. ``It's self-fulfilling. He's got to get that thought out of his head, or he's going to get 100 at-bats instead of 400 at-bats.''

Wilson, 32, could have a major role at the start of the season in an outfield thinned by the slow rehabs of Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion. Both Edmonds and La Russa said everything would have to come off without a hitch in his comeback from surgery on his right shoulder and left foot to be ready on opening day, and La Russa said earlier this week that he expected Encarnacion, who had left wrist surgery in December, to begin the year on the 15-day disabled list.

Those openings might be for somebody else, La Russa warns, if Wilson continues to struggle. He was batting .179 through Thursday, going 5-for-28 with 12 strikeouts, one RBI and one extra-base hit, a double.

Wilson's reaction? So what? He'll be ready when the bell rings.

``I've never really had great spring trainings,'' Wilson said. ``I've never worried too much about spring training.

``It maybe gives coaches and the organization a little better feeling if you're having more success in spring training, but for a player who's been around for more than just a couple of years I don't worry as much about 'OK, I didn't get a hit today.'''

La Russa told reporters that outfield candidates must earn playing time, noting that So Taguchi (.139) also was not making an impression, but that John Rodriguez (.409) has been building a case.

``I didn't hear that from him,'' Wilson said. ``I guess if he comes and tells me that, I'll have some clarification, but he didn't say anything to me so I've been doing what I've been doing.

``If people are getting over-animated or worried about spring training, maybe they should look at my spring training numbers. When the season rolls around, I've managed to be productive.''

Wilson had a 30-homer, 30-steal season in 2000 with the Marlins, and led the NL with 141 RBIs in 2003 with Colorado. The Astros released him last August because they were unhappy with his nine homers, although he finished with respectable totals of 17 homers and 72 RBIs after helping the Cardinals survive while Edmonds was out with post-concussion syndrome.

He played in all five World Series games and hit the go-ahead double in Game 5 of the NL championship series.

Wilson hasn't had a 100-RBI season since 2003, missing much of 2004 due to injuries and driving in 90 for Colorado and Washington in 2005. He's not content to be an extra outfielder behind Edmonds, Encarnacion and Chris Duncan, though.

``Hopefully when this thing washes out I'll earn the opportunity to be regular, and if it doesn't, it doesn't,'' Wilson said. ``If it's a situation where I need to go 2-for-3 every day, then tell me.

``I'm more prepared for the long season.''

La Russa doesn't want to hear that Wilson accepts poor springs. Wilson appears to have shortened his stroke in recent days.

``That's the value of experience, do something different,'' La Russa said. ``I'm not being critical, I'm just saying the reality is you can't go to the bank when you're trying to win playing time.''