April 14, 2009

Schumaker improving at turning two

April 14, 2009

ST. LOUIS - Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker knew the transition from outfield to infield wouldn't be easy. There'd be different types of ground balls he would have to field -- the short hops, backhanded, in the hole, up the middle. Then once he fielded the ball, he knew he would have to worry about throwing. All while he stood much closer to home plate and with less time to react.

And for the most part during Spring Training, Schumaker was able to handle the ground balls that came his way. He had a few minor hiccups throwing the ball, but that didn't seem to be too much of a problem either.

But there was one thing that seemed to haunt Schumaker as he learned his new position: double plays. The footwork making the pivot and throw to first, the toss to the shortstop covering the bag -- everything about turning a double play was new to Schumaker, and it seemed to give him problems.

But on Friday night, in Schumaker's third start of the season at second, the 29-year-old turned two successful double plays. Both came in key situations, helping the Cardinals hold on for a 5-3 win over Houston.

"I think every double play is a big play," Schumaker said. "That's what pitchers want to get out of an inning. Our staff is a ground-ball staff and they pitch to contact, so they expect those plays to be made, and so do we."

Schumaker had a throwing error on Tuesday night when he rushed a throw and misfired to first baseman Albert Pujols on a fairly routine ground ball, but his handling of the thing that he has spent the most time working on, double plays, seems to be improving.

"He's getting better and better," said manager Tony La Russa. "He turned two tough ones [Friday]."

Schumaker has continued to arrive at the park early and spend extra time working on his footwork with coaches Jose Oquendo and Joe Pettini. During both of Friday's double plays, Schumaker gracefully took the feed, stepped on the bag and threw strikes to Pujols at first.

For one of the first times since the switch, Schumaker looked comfortable turning double plays at his new position.

"It's not like it was the first week of spring, that's for sure," Schumaker said. "When I was thinking about, 'Right, left, field, throw it, what do I do when the runner's coming in?' and that type of thing. It's getting better, but I'm still new at this. It was a good day [Friday], but I still have work to do."

And while his defense is important, Schumaker knows that he can't forget about the other part of the game. Batting leadoff, he had three hits Friday night and was batting .385 heading into Saturday's game against Houston.

"If I don't hit, I'm not going to play," Schumaker said. "That's just how it is. It's not any pressure, I just know that's what it is, so the hitting has to be there as well.

"The reason why I am here is so I can contribute offensively. I knew that coming into it. It would help our offense if I could do this."

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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