Backups look to fill third-base void left by Punto

2011-02-23T07:13:00Z 2011-03-19T01:31:45Z Backups look to fill third-base void left by PuntoBY DERRICK GOOLD
February 23, 2011 7:13 am  • 

JUPITER, Fla. • Cardinals minor-leaguer Daniel Descalso played third base throughout high school and college, and though he had not revisited the position much in the minors the hot corner didn't feel all that different last September.

"It's just read and react," Descalso said.

Same could be said about his place in the organization.

He's got to get a read on it, then react.

Descalso, who made nine starts at third last season for the Cardinals, has already started reacting to his read on the new look of the Cardinals' situation at third base. Nick Punto, the planned backup behind starter David Freese, will miss at least the first month of the regular season after having surgery later this week to repair a tear in his lower abdomen. His absence created a void that could be filled by any one of several players already in major-league camp, including Descalso, Tyler Greene and Ramon Vazquez. Allen Craig, a third baseman earlier in his career, has been doing workouts exclusively as an infielder this spring.

Descalso splits his days by taking grounders at his natural position, second base, and moonlighting at third. He said if he starts the day with the second basemen, he finishes it by taking extra work with the third basemen. If he starts his day with the third basemen, then well ... flip, rinse, repeat.

"They leave it up to you, really," Descalso said when asked if that split-shift was scheduled for him. "I'm expected to be able to play both, so it's up to me to be ready to play on either side of the diamond."

What's expected of Vazquez may have changed with Punto's injury.

The veteran and former Pittsburgh Pirates infielder signed a minor-league deal with the Cardinals after his agent canvassed the majors looking for an interested team. He brings experience as a starter at both shortstop and third base -- for the Texas Rangers -- and he also has played for Jose Oquendo on Team Puerto Rico. Vazquez has more than 200 games at third base in the majors, and he said that's been the position he's played the most often in winter ball.

"Forever," he said.

Vazquez, 34, is a lefthanded bat that would act as a complement to the righthanded-hitting Freese and, if he show agility, the righthanded-hitting Ryan Theriot at shortstop. Vazquez has been lining up at shortstop for a lot of drills so far this spring, though he's also sprinkled in work at second and third to flash that versatility that has helped him get footholds in the majors.

He, like Descalso, has a read on how to handle third base that also describes the role he's auditioning to play.

"It's a reaction position," Vazquez said. "Be ready. It comes in hot."


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