Cardinals' Craig: All systems are go

News-DemocratJanuary 20, 2014 

— Allen Craig's left foot won't prohibit him from starting the season on the right track.

Craig, the St. Louis Cardinals' right fielder, said Sunday that the "Lisfranc" injury that forced him to miss the final month of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs will no longer hold him back.

"I feel really good," he said at the Winter Warm-Up. "After the season, I took a month off just to rest up and heal. I started rehabbing and working out and conditioning after that.

"I've been doing that ever since, and it feels pretty good right now. I'll be ready for spring training and ready for the season."

The injury, named after Jacques Lisfranc de St. Martin, is when one or more of the metatarsal bones are displaced from the tarsus.

Craig suffered the injury when he rounded first base in a Sept. 4 game at Cincinnati. He returned for the World Series against the Boston Red Sox and was 6-for-16 (.375).

"It was pretty sore, but I felt like I could contribute. That's why I was out there," said Craig, who batted .315 with 13 home runs and 97 RBIs in 134 games. "It was pretty sore and it was a little bit of a struggle. But that's not something I really like to talk about. If I had it my way, I wouldn't have been injured and had that be the topic of conversation. So in that regard, it was frustrating.

"But also, I was extremely excited to get out there and play again and finish out the season with my teammates. That was a pretty tough time in my career, not being able to finish out September with the guys. It was a really tough time for that injury to happen. So to get out there and play in the World Series and contribute with the team was a great experience overall."

Craig was the most productive clutch hitter in baseball last year, batting .454 with 83 RBIs with runners in scoring position. He said a similar season in that area isn't something that can be expected.

"It's a constant adjustment to produce with runners in scoring position," Craig said. "I think the big part for our team is communication and learning what the pitcher is doing to us."

Switching sides

Former Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Mark Ellis got his first taste of life as a Cardinal at the Winter Warm-Up.

Like so many others, Ellis is bullish on the Cardinals' young pitchers, and he knows from experience about the difficulties of facing them as he did last fall in the National League Championship Series.

"I've faced this pitching staff," Ellis said. "I know they have great pitching. I know they have incredible arms at the back end of the bullpen. That played a huge role in deciding to come here.

"If you have a Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn ... Those guys are good pitchers and would be No. 2s or No. 1 on a lot of teams."

Ellis said good pitching can make a team slump-proof.

"I've been fortunate to be with a lot of good pitching staffs, starting with Oakland and last year with the Dodgers," he said. "Good pitching doesn't really ever slump. Your offense can go in a slump, but if you have those pitchers out there, you always have a chance to win."

Ellis, 36, signed a one-year, $5.25 million free-agent deal with St. Louis on Dec. 16. He will provide insurance at second base in the event rookie Kolten Wong isn't up to the assignment.

"They said they like him," Ellis said of the club's feelings about Wong, 23. "They said he's a good young player. They didn't promise me anything. I told them I wanted to come and play baseball. If you want me to back up Yadi (Molina), whatever. I want to play baseball. I want to be part of a winning organization.

"My game plan is to go out there (and) get prepared like I always do to be an everyday player. Then I'll be ready to play."

Not so fast

Matt "Big City" Adams is the Cardinals' projected starter at first base, but he's not taking anything for granted.

"I think it's a huge opportunity, but you never know what can happen," said Adams, who batted .284 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 108 games and 319 at-bats last season. "You have to go with it, run with it and hopefully things work out. I have to go down there ready to perform, ready to fight for a job.

Adams, listed at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, has shed "6 to 7 pounds" since the end of the season using the Simon Lovell diet.

"I'm losing some weight," he said. "I'm getting after it. We don't have that much time going late into (last) season. I wanted to work hard and lose some more weight."

Adams didn't receive many assignments against left-handed pitchers, and batted .231 (12-for-52) with three home runs and a .231 on-base percentage.

"The big thing I'm working on is trying to see lefty pitching better because that's one of the areas I struggled at last year --hitting that lefty slider down and away," Adams said. "I'm getting (swings against) a machine and having some younger, elite college guys come in and throw lefty BP to me to try to get that down."

Crazy offseason

It hasn't been a typical winter for Kelly.

Kelly married his fiance, Ashley, on Nov. 9 and has lived through an earthquake and wildfires in his native California.

"The wedding was definitely the most exciting part," Kelly said. "It was beautiful and very awesome."

Kelly was in bed when the earthquake hit.

"I wasn't sleeping very well that night," he said. "The weather was kind of weird. There's no such thing as earthquake weather, but it kind of felt eerie. It was in the middle of the night, like 1:40. It hit in Fontana, which is like three miles away from where we live.

"It wasn't very big, but being so close to it, it felt bigger. ... It knocked down a couple of pictures. My dogs got really scared. It went on for over a second and a half, which is random. Usually, they're really quick."

Kelly didn't escape unscathed.

"It was shaking the house and my dog jumped up and put a big ol' scratch down my chest," he said.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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