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Friday, May 30, 2008

La Russa: 'Totally my decision'

Although he is among Chris Duncan’s biggest defenders, manager Tony La Russa said it was "totally my decision" Friday to send the lefthanded-hitting outfielder to Class AAA Memphis to make room for righthanded-hitting Joe Mather.

Mather will make his major league debut tonight at Busch Stadium when he bats second ahead of Albert Pujols against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"The front office didn’t say a word," said La Russa of the move to send Duncan out so that Duncan could get some consistent at-bats. The Cardinals will face five lefthanded pitchers in the next week, so Duncan, who is two for 18 against southpaws, wouldn’t have played much.

"I just look at it as, 'What’s the best chance to get this guy right?’’’ said La Russa. "And I think it’s playing. He needs to play.

"But what I think the fans need to remember is that here’s a guy who sparked us in his first two years. I don’t understand their impatience with this guy. It’s atypical for the way they act. They cheered him in the second half of ’06 when he saved us and the first half last year before he got hurt (double hernia). Now he’s hitting .260 (actually .252) and he’s struggling. How much more do you need to know that this guy’s for real?"

Duncan is required to stay in the minors at least 10 days on the option assignment. Mather, La Russa said, would play with some regularity, but the Cardinals also must find time for Ryan Ludwick, Skip Schumaker, Rick Ankiel and Rule 5 draftee Brian Barton.

Mather had been told late Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa, by Memphis manager Chris Maloney that he was coming to the big leagues, but La Russa said he still wanted to sleep on his decision overnight Thursday.

"It was a real tough call because (Duncan’s) not hitting under .200. But it’s really hard to play him against a lefty right now," La Russa said.

Duncan had 43 homers in the previous two seasons, and La Russa said, "You take our current group of outfielders, which includes Mather and (Colby) Rasmus, and Chris has as much or more potential to be a productive, impact guy. He’s already demonstrated it."

La Russa said the decision as to when to send out Duncan was also tied to the recent media speculation that he should be optioned. "You don’t want to appear to be responding to other people being unreasonable," La Russa said.

La Russa said he told Duncan of his decision this afternoon and La Russa said, "He was not pleased. He could see that he may not be prospering but he was surviving."

Duncan had made several good defensive plays and had the game-winning hit off Houston righthander Roy Oswalt in a 3-2 Cardinals win on Thursday night. He is expected to join the Memphis team in Albuquerque on Saturday night and La Russa told Maloney the latter could play Duncan at either first base or the outfield.

The 26-year-old Mather, a third-round draft pick in 2001, was hitting ,.315 with 12 homers, 10 of them this month. "This guy’s a good player," La Russa said. "He plays the whole game -- defense, runs bases, takes tough at-bats."

La Russa said that one of the things he told Mather in an afternoon chat today was, "You don’t have to feel guilty about Chris not being here. There are going to be a lot of games when you guys are on the same roster."

Mather, who will wear No. 62, talked to the media some 3 ½ hours ahead of the game and said, "I’m hope I’m this calm when I get in the box."

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