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La Russa unconcerned by Izturis' rust

La Russa unconcerned by Izturis' rust

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The final stretch of Spring Training started Wednesday with Cesar Izturis in St. Louis' starting lineup against Baltimore lefty Adam Loewen. That, in itself, reveals a great deal about where Izturis stands with the Cardinals, despite his sub-.200 batting average and sub-.900 fielding percentage.

It hasn't been a good spring for Izturis, but he is expected to be the team's primary shortstop option when the regular season begins in 12 days.

"I think he's showing us a lot," manager Tony La Russa said on Wednesday. "So he's just got to keep showing what he's showing. If you're talking about defensive results, I have no problem. I think he's playing defense very well. You just watch the way he's moving, he's playing defense very well. Offensively, I'd like to see him keep improving his at-bats, but they've been better. He's got another 10 days to get better and better."

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Izturis picked up two hits on Wednesday, erasing what had been an embarrassing statistic: he had more errors than base hits through his first 13 games. The results still aren't where he'd like them to be, but Izturis is encouraged with both halves of his game.

"A day like today, it gives you confidence," he said. "I'll go back tomorrow and do the same thing."

What appeared to be a somewhat competitive situation between Izturis and Brendan Ryan hasn't really materialized as such. Ryan has outhit Izturis, batting .278 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging percentage. And while Ryan has been erratic at times defensively, he's also been outstanding at times.

However, La Russa emphasizes that he's looking at the big picture. He is certain that Izturis is a drastically better fielder than his six errors indicate, and the manager expects Izturis to contribute offensively. La Russa takes issue, in fact, with the characterization that Ryan has been a better all-around player this spring.

"[Ryan] hasn't outplayed him defensively," La Russa said. "He's had a good hitting spring. He's been a tougher out."

Ryan was bothered by a sore right intercostal muscle on Wednesday, so he wasn't available to play, but he wouldn't have been in the lineup anyway. Ryan is almost certainly on the team, but at the start of the year, Izturis is the primary shortstop.

And La Russa believes the Cards have a glove much closer to Gold than iron when Izturis is in the lineup.

"The errors, I don't have any problem with," he said. "If you're going to evaluate people on the number of errors in Spring Training, then over time you're going to make a lot of mistakes. Some guys can't play, but not him. Hitting, he's getting better timing and he's getting better.

"A great majority of the plays that are fair to evaluate, that are more big league-like, he's handled really well."

Matthew Leach 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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