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Notes: Miles comfortable in utility spot

Notes: Miles comfortable in utility spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- Aaron Miles' versatility helped the Cardinals overcome an injury to shortstop David Eckstein on the road to the World Series last year.

This year that versatility might secure an important job for Miles.

With World Series Most Valuable Player Eckstein back in full health and Adam Kennedy signed to take over as the starting second baseman, Miles is being asked to compete for a utility infielder's role. It's a step down for the man who started 71 games at second base for St. Louis last year, but Miles isn't complaining.

"Everybody wants to start and of course I do, but at the same time I'm happy with the role I'm in and the fact that I've proved to these guys and the rest of the league that I'm a guy who can play both middle infield positions and do it good," Miles said. "I'm anxious to get things going and start the season and try to get ourselves another world title."

Miles made his first career start at shortstop on Aug. 7. He took over for Eckstein on Aug. 18 and started 31 of the final 37 regular season games at the position.

"I was really impressed with him last year," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's got a different situation than when he was here last year. [We] need to get him his at-bats; he's going to play a lot in Spring Training."

Preparing for a utility role is something new for the 30-year-old Miles.

"My preparation has changed this year because I'll be working more at shortstop," he said. "Last year, it was just a case of showing them I can do it. This year, I know I'm going to be playing shortstop so I've got to cut up the time between short and second equally. Last year, I knew it was second base or Triple-A. This year, I'm working on what I need to work on to be ready at both positions."

Miles must also get used to the idea of pinch-hitting more often than he has in the past.

"I think I've had the good fortune to play with some really good pinch-hitters like Mark Sweeney when I was with the Rockies and [Scott] Spiezio and [So] Taguchi [here]," Miles said. "I really feel like I'm pretty adept at being a guy who can come off the bench.

"I'm a guy who can take a week off and come back and look like I've been playing every day. I'm hungry and I want to play. If somebody's happy sitting on the bench you have to question them, but as the same time I wouldn't have signed back here if this wasn't the best opportunity for me."

Miles also knows he'll have plenty of help on the Cardinals infield wherever he's playing. That came in handy last year as Miles posted a .953 fielding percentage at shortstop, where he committed eight errors in 40 games. He owns a .982 career fielding percentage at second base.

"Playing short with [Scott] Rolen to your right is unbelievable," Miles said. "When you do get a ball hit in the hole you're going to get to it because he covers so much range. It's a pleasure to play by him. [Albert] Pujols covers a lot of ground, too. Albert will help you out, too. He'll say, 'Hey, I've seen this guy do this before.' Both are great athletic defenders and at the same time they're very, very knowledgeable. It's the kind of combination you don't see all that often."

A key for any utility player is staying sharp, and La Russa knows that is harder to do if you're not getting regular at-bats. That's another reason Miles will get plenty of playing time in Florida.

"One of the challenges we're going to have -- because of the guys we have on the corners and the middle infield -- is that it doesn't leave a lot of chances for Spiezio or Aaron," La Russa said.

Extra bases: Veteran infielder Jolbert Cabrera is trying to win one of the utility spots. "A guy like Jolbert can play his way on our team," La Russa said. "It's not easy, [but] he can pick somebody off." ... Closer Jason Isringhausen has yet to pitch live batting practice as the Cardinals are bringing the right-hander, who underwent arthroscopic hip surgery on Sept. 21, along at a measured pace. "He's progressing," La Russa said. "Haven't put a deadline on it. I want to do it when Mother Nature says he's ready." ... Center fielder Jim Edmonds is another rehabbing player the Cards are bringing along slowly. "We're in February, he's got more healing to do and there's more camp left," La Russa said. "So we wait." ... Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley attended Friday's workout.

Weather report: Saturday's forecast calls for another beautiful day in Jupiter with clear skies and temperatures in the 60s for most of the workout.

Coming up: Players are scheduled to report at 8:30 a.m. ET with stretching on the field scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at the Roger Dean Stadium complex.

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

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