Cardinals taking slow, sure approach with Furcal
Shortstop swings from both sides of plate as designated hitter in 'B' game
JUPITER, Fla. -- Rafael Furcal's recent declaration that he feels he's just about ready to play in the field has not changed the Cardinals' plans to proceed with continued caution. With a month remaining until Opening Day, the organization appears to be in no rush to challenge Furcal with full game action just yet.
Furcal's lone Grapefruit League appearance came on Sunday, when he took two at-bats as the team's designated hitter. At the time, a bone spur in Furcal's right elbow was precluding the switch-hitter from swinging left-handed or playing at short.
He's crossed one of those hurdles since then, having been cleared to swing from the left side on Tuesday. In Thursday's 'B' game against the Marlins, the Cardinals used Furcal as the DH and allowed him to swing from both sides of the plate.
Hitting left-handed, Furcal grounded into a double play in his first at-bat. He batted right-handed in the fourth and drew a walk. He struck out in his final at-bat of the morning.
The at-bats should keep coming. It's pushing Furcal into the field, though, that has the Cardinals still hesitant.
"I don't know if that's the goal," manager Mike Matheny said when told of Furcal's projection that he could play shortstop in a game this weekend. "We're just trying to keep moving him forward. We're not in a huge hurry. I always love hearing what the guys have to say, but it means more to me what our medical staff has to say. And then we're going to err on the side of caution, especially with where we are right now."
The organization has more flexibility to slow Furcal's progression down this spring because of the extended slate of games. Due to the World Baseball Classic interruption in March, game-play began much earlier than normal. That's why the Cardinals aren't so concerned about Furcal's lack of activity just yet.
"They don't want me to push," Furcal said. "They want me to keep throwing and keep my arm loose, and see what happens."
Last year, Furcal didn't make his Grapefruit League debut until March 8. In fact, he played in only two games before March 14. The decision to condense almost all of his game appearances late in spring worked for Furcal, who opened the regular season with a three-hit game and was batting .333 at the end of May.
The obvious difference, of course, is that Furcal wasn't nursing an ailing elbow last year.
Furcal has been taking grounders since arriving in camp, but he has still not exerted himself fully on his throws. That, Matheny said, isn't as much a concern as Furcal's level of comfort in what he is able to do.
"I think the [throw] that everybody is concerned about is the one where he goes in the hole and comes up throwing a clothesline across the field," Matheny said. "I'm not so concerned with that right now. I've seen some drills where I've seen him backhand, make a throw and he has plenty on it. His arm is so strong, he can get by with it. But I want him to be confident. I don't want him to get in a position where he feels like he's put himself in a compromised spot."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.