Edmonds makes spring debut

Edmonds makes spring debut

JUPITER, Fla. -- Most seasons, Jim Edmonds' Grapefruit League debut is hardly a matter for celebration. It's no secret that Edmonds cares little for exhibition games, and history shows that he rarely needs the practice.

At age 36, though, Edmonds' view of such matters is changing a bit.

One week before Opening Night, Edmonds made his Spring Training debut for the Cardinals, playing center field and batting second. He had been sidelined for the first three weeks of spring games as he recovered from offseason shoulder and toe surgery.

In previous years, a week would have been more than enough for Edmonds to get ready. Known to teammates as the kind of player who can "fall out of bed and hit," Edmonds has enjoyed torrid Aprils after abbreviated Marches plenty of times in the past.

Edmonds' ability to get ready quickly is less of a certainty this time around, though. Even as he begins playing Grapefruit League games, he and his manager speak of his Opening Night availability as a matter of if, rather than when.

"I was just trying to get through the day without hurting anything," Edmonds said. "It was an easy day. I didn't have to run too much and didn't take too many bad swings, so it was a positive day to get through. That's all we're looking at."

Manager Tony La Russa was excited to have Edmonds back, but still measured in his optimism.

"We were just kind of going week to week, day to day without him, playing the guys that are available," said La Russa. "But with it being Sunday, and us having seven games, I don't know how many he can play in, but at least it creates a chance he might make it."

Edmonds played three innings in the field and took two plate appearances on Sunday. In the top of the first inning, he played three balls, getting him in the action quickly. He went 0-for-1 with a walk and a groundout.

"Just a normal first day," he said. "I didn't feel too bad. I've been able to do a lot of stuff in the last week to kind of get me prepared. My expectations weren't too high. I was just trying to get through the day."

The Cardinals hope their All-Star outfielder will be sufficiently conditioned and ready for the April 1 season opener against the New York Mets. Like his manager, Edmonds is hopeful but not entirely sure. He'll play again on Monday, then go day by day from there.

"I'm at the point in my career where I understand the importance of today, what needs to be done and how you need to feel at the end of the day," he said. "[I don't] just look at 0-for-1 or whatever. A lot of things were positive and there's not too many negatives. So I feel it was a pretty good day."

Edmonds was bothered by right shoulder soreness throughout the 2006 season, and underwent an operation in November to "clean up" his labrum. He initially hoped not to need surgery on the "hammer toe" condition in his left foot, but when the injury did not subside as the winter went on, surgery became necessary. He had the second operation in January.

The team must walk a delicate line with Edmonds for the remainder of the spring. He needs at-bats and game time in order to get into shape, but after going five months without playing in games, some restraint is needed as well.

"We play everything by ear," La Russa said. "We don't know what to expect. You work out, you're under control. He may make one break today and his toe would be sore and that's the end of it. Who knows?"

On Sunday, Edmonds was put in the No. 2 spot in the lineup in order to get his at-bats quickly.

"He needs that more than he needs defensive innings," La Russa said.

Edmonds saw it the same way, pointing out that he's played the outfield in pain plenty of times before.

"I was more worried about hitting," he said. "I'm used to limping. I'm more worried about hitting right now. I just want to not overswing and not do anything too much, and I'll worry about my foot as it goes."

After being removed from the game, Edmonds spent three innings on the Cardinals bench before he and the other veterans headed for the clubhouse. In another sign of his burgeoning elder-statesman status, Edmonds delighted in stopping to watch one of the Cards' most exciting prospects show his stuff.

Edmonds and Chris Carpenter watched Chris Perez, a right-handed reliever taken in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, make his first appearance in a big-league game. Perez breezed through a 1-2-3 inning, and the veterans trekked to the clubhouse.

"When you get older, you want to see guys come up and do well," Edmonds said. "We need a lot of help. You can always use pitching and always use good young arms. It's good to see guys like that move up.

"It's fun to watch. I like that part of the game. I enjoy that more than a lot of the other stuff that goes on. It's fun to see young kids come up, because I remember when I was young, how much support I got from the older players."

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