Cards enter spring training with few spots open

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Manager Tony La Russa looked out at the 59 players who reported for the Cardinals first full-squad workout Saturday and declared the roster set. Well, almost.

The team came into the season as secure as it has been in years, with its starting rotation set and a veteran lineup anchored by star first baseman Albert Pujols. Barring injuries, the few spots up for grabs are on the bench and in the bullpen.

“There’s not a lot of room for somebody to light it up and make the club,” La Russa said.

The team is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2010 season in which it went 86-76 but missed the playoffs, going just 39-39 in its division.

Leading the way is a starting rotation featuring Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse.

“When you look at our rotation we have a legitimate chance to win every day with our starting pitcher,” pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “There’s not really a fourth or fifth guy in our rotation.

“The whole thing is to get to opening day with them all healthy and ready to start the season.”

The team feels it solidified its starting lineup in the offseason by acquiring Lance Berkman, who will play right field, and shortstop Ryan Theriot.

“We have a great team and our goal is hopefully to win a championship this year,” Pujols said.

There are a few spots up for grabs on the bench behind catcher Gerald Laird, infielder Nick Punto and outfielder Allen Craig, and in the bullpen, where the team is looking for pitchers to set up closer Ryan Franklin.

Despite the lack of openings, La Russa said he’ll promote competition within the roster.

“The healthiest thing is to embrace competition,” La Russa said. “If you have a healthy competition among your teammates the way that most teams do it, including ours, you can be really good.”

One player who won’t be there is outfielder Jim Edmonds, who had agreed to a minor-league contract but announced his retirement Friday. La Russa and general manager John Mozeliak said the club might need a right-handed hitting outfielder, but they are not actively shopping around for one.

La Russa said he plans to tinker with the front and back of the lineup to try find the most effective combination to surround Pujols, left fielder Matt Holliday and Berkman.

Theriot, centerfielder Colby Rasmus and second baseman Skip Schumaker will compete for the top two spots in the order, and whoever loses out will join third baseman David Freese and catcher Yadier Molina in batting behind the big three.

“I think we have really good people, I think we have really good talent,” La Russa said. “I think there are other teams that have good people, good talent which makes it exciting.

“I also know there’s nothing automatic. Because you’ve been really good doesn’t mean you’re really good this year. That’s the charm of this game. You got to re-establish and reprove.”

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