After a brutal start to the 2006 season, Encarnacion came on strong in May, June and July -- slugging over .500 in each of those three months. But the wrist began bothering him around midseason, and his power vanished in the second half. Encarnacion slugged under .400 in August and again in September.
"You always play better when you're not hurt," he said. "I played with that pretty much the whole time."
The Cardinals will proceed cautiously with Encarnacion, whom they consider one of their more important offensive players. He's likely to hit sixth for St. Louis and should have scads of RBI chances.
"His second year with us, I think he'll feel more confident and understand more what's going on," said La Russa. "We need him. Need him to be productive."
This time of year: They say good pitching beats good hitting, but in February, any pitching tends to beat any hitting. The Cardinals began "pitching practice," in which hitters stand in for live batting practice against the team's pitchers, on Monday. And the results, predictably, favored the hurlers.
A grand total of two balls were hit fair against Chris Carpenter in his session, despite the fact that Carpenter was admittedly not sharp. Also throwing to hitters were Anthony Reyes, Brad Thompson, Randy Flores, Josh Hancock, Blake Hawksworth and Mike Parisi.
"All we're doing," said pitching coach Dave Duncan, "is conditioning right now -- conditioning their arms and conditioning them to the strike zone and facing hitters."
Pitching practice adds the first competitive dimension to workouts, and it holds a certain appeal to some players. At least at first.
"The idea may give you a spring in your step, but when you walk in there against Carpenter, you may lose that spring," said La Russa. "It may be a little humiliating when you don't get the ball past the pitcher."
Among those who will face hitters on Tuesday are Braden Looper, Ryan Franklin, Troy Cate and Tyler Johnson.
Back from Daytona: La Russa made a T-shirt vendor's day during his visit to the Daytona 500 on Sunday. The skipper, who attended the race as a guest of a car owner, found himself overwhelmed by the sensory overload of a NASCAR race.
Similarly overwhelming was his T-shirt order. The skipper knew he had to bring back souvenirs for all the Cardinals who couldn't make the trip north -- so he bought 80 T-shirts to distribute.
"One [vendor] was real happy," La Russa said. "I said to pull for the Cardinals, and she said, 'I sure will.'"
Quotable: "If you were to watch guys throw today, you wouldn't be overly impressed. They didn't throw with the command that they're going to throw with two or three times out. They're basically just getting their feet on the ground against hitters again." -- Duncan
Weather report: Monday felt more like Florida than any day since pitchers and catchers reported. Temperatures pushed 70 under a bright sun. Tuesday will be even nicer. The forecast calls for a high of 75 degrees, no clouds or rain and only a light, gentle wind. Pretty much perfect.
Coming up: The full squad begins working out on Tuesday morning. Things will get started with a stretch on the field at approximately 9:30 a.m. ET, with the workout to follow.