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Pujols returns to his comfort zone

Pujols returns to his comfort zone

After spending Monday's game filling in at third base

May 18th, 2011 in News

St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Albert Pujols handles a bouncing grounder hit by Philadelphia Phillies' John Mayberry Jr. during the second inning of a baseball game Monday, May 16, 2011, in St. Louis.

Photo by The Associated Press /News Tribune.

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A night after making his first start at third base since 2002, Albert Pujols was back at first base.

Manager Tony La Russa said before Tuesday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies that Pujols might make a handful of starts at third the rest of the season.

Pujols fielded five chances in a 3-1 victory Monday, starting a double play and going to his left to make a nice stop and struggled only on a potential double-play grounder that he bobbled, settling for a forceout.

"He's willing to do whatever we need," La Russa said. "But that's not in our best interests to get him over there very much."

Pujols said no one should worry about his arm. He had bone chips removed from his right elbow after the 2009 season.

"Everybody's thinking about my arm. My arm is great," Pujols said. "I got it fixed two years ago and I feel good."

La Russa juggled his lineup Monday, shifting four players to move Allen Craig from second base, where he has little experience, to right field.

That move was based on the Phillies' left-handed bats against righty Jake Westbrook.

"I was like, "Hey, give me a shot there and if I don't look good, that'll be the last time I approach you,'" Pujols said. "Can I play every day? Probably not. But I think in an emergency or whenever he needs me, I'm available."

Pujols came up as a third baseman, and made 89 starts there his first two seasons in 2001-02. At first base, he's known for covering a lot of territory. After Monday's game, Pujols said he worried most about handling bunts.

"I love the action, I love to take groundballs at different places, because you just never know when the team is going to need you," Pujols said. "He asked me, "Are you sure? Are you comfortable?'

"I'm like, "Hey, why should I be uncomfortable?' I think I can still play out there."

Craig started at second base Tuesday, with La Russa reasoning he'd get fewer chances with left-hander Jaime Garcia pitching for St. Louis.

Craig caught a popup and fielded a throw at first on a sacrifice bunt, but fielded no grounders before La Russa replaced him with Tyler Greene after six innings. Greene made a nice play up the middle and threw out Ben Francisco to open the seventh, but dropped Jimmy Rollins' routine popup with one out in the eighth, leading to the tying run.

The Cardinals have been making do at third base since David Freese broke his left hand in early May, an injury that's expected to sideline him until mid-July. They're short-handed at second base, too, but Skip Schumaker will begin a rehab assignment today.

Schumaker has been on the 15-day disabled list with a right triceps injury since April 16.

La Russa said he believed both Schumaker and left-handed reliever Brian Tallet, who began a rehab assignment Tuesday from a broken right hand, would be activated before the end of a 10-day, nine-game trip that starts Friday in Kansas City.