After seven-week layoff, Craig returns in cleanup spot

After seven-week layoff, Craig returns in cleanup spot

After seven-week layoff, Craig returns in cleanup spot

BOSTON -- Dapper Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak proudly showed off his necktie to a gaggle of reporters before Game 1 of the World Series, an orange number dotted with tiny turtles and baseball caps.

"Torty is back and hitting cleanup," he said with a smile.

The Torty reference was a nod to Allen Craig, whose pet tortoise gained fame during the Cardinals' run through the 2011 postseason. Torty's owner returned to the Cardinals' lineup on Wednesday after a seven-week layoff, and was indeed batting cleanup despite not seeing a "real" pitch since he suffered a severe left-foot sprain on Sept. 4.

For weeks now, this has been Craig's target. But Mozeliak packed an extra bowtie, sans Torty, just in case Craig couldn't be ready in time.

"It first started with the medical threshold, that he wasn't going to put himself in a situation where he could have a major setback," Mozeliak said. "They really wanted to make sure the ankle was stable, which it is.

"Then it became how quickly could he advance in a baseball scenario? We pushed him as best we could, giving him as much exposure to live pitching as we could, to make sure his timing is right. This obviously wasn't the perfect place to do it, but he worked extremely hard. Basically, based on what we saw over the last week, we felt comfortable we could do this."

It is a major acquisition for St. Louis. Craig batted a ridiculous .454 in 152 plate appearances with runners in scoring position during the regular season, the third-best mark over the past four decades behind George Brett's .469 in 1980 and Tony Gwynn's .459 in 1997.

The question is how quickly Craig can rediscover his timing. Mozeliak said he wasn't worried.

"The one thing this young man has always been able to do is hit," he said. "You look at his approach, it's a very clean, short approach to the ball. It's going to be a lift for this lineup just knowing he's in there."

The Red Sox were not taking Craig lightly, despite his extended absence. Boston manager John Farrell cited the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension in August and September but batted .333 with five extra-base hits in 10 postseason games, including the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.

"I'm sure they're feeling pretty good that they can use him in the DH role," Farrell said. "We also recognize that there's been 40-some games missed, and that's not being taken lightly on our part, because we've seen guys step back in after sizable games missed and have performed very well. ... Anytime you have the ability to lengthen out the lineup with that kind of power bat in the middle, it's a further challenge for us."

Craig did not take ground balls at first base on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether he appears as anything beyond a pinch-hitter when the Series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3-5.

"Everybody keeps asking me, 'Does this mean he'll play first next week?' And I don't know," Mozeliak said. "We have 72 hours to cross that bridge. Let's just see how tonight goes first."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.