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Will Pete Kozma’s three-hit night get critics off his back?

Lately it seems that a lot of residents of Cardinals Nation are calling for the Pete Kozma to be exiled.

Hopefully the utility infielder’s three-hit performance with several fine plays in the field will quiet those upset that Kozma hadn’t hit much previously this season.

It was a nice showing. But Kozma really didn’t need the validation to prove he belongs on the Redbirds’ major league roster right now.

I didn’t expect Kozma to continue to tear the cover off the ball like he did in spring training.

There just aren’t too many backup shortstops in the big leagues who are threats to win a batting title while getting a handful of plate appearances a week.

It’s odd that when Kozma was thrust into the starting shortstop job a few years back thanks to injuries to Rafael Furcal the mantra was that Kozma didn’t need to hit -- he just needed to play strong defense -- to keep the Cardinals afloat.

Now he’s expected to produce like a starter at the plate when he plays once a week?

Even after his Thursday start, Kozma has only had 63 plate appearances all year. That is less than half of the total accumulated by Peter Bourjos who, despite a .234 average in nearly a year and a half with the Cardinals, continues to be popular with a sect of St. Louis fans who think he should start over Jon Jay because of his centerfield glove.

Only back-up catcher Tony Cruz has less at-bats among players who have been with the big league club all season. And only eight less at that.

Like him or not, Kozma is in the organization to stay unless St. Louis trades for a different backup shortstop. In short, no pun intended, the club doesn’t have another major league-ready player who could fill in on a long-term basis should Jhonny Peralta be lost for an extended period of time to injury.

Greg Garcia, recently called up to the big leagues, doesn’t field well enough to be considered as a potential starting major league shortstop. Because of that, the Cardinals have split his time in the minors between three positions: short, second and third, lowering their expectations for Garcia.

While he may make a nice utility player, Garcia is hindered by the fact that he bats left-handed. All things being equal, the lefty-heavy Cardinals have more use for a righty hitter off the bench than a lefty.

Would I like to see Kozma contribute more? Sure. But it’s not his fault the Cardinals bench is so impotent.

Mark Reynolds and Randal Grichuk were supposed to be the right-handed firepower off the pine, not the back-up shortstop. Unfortunately, both of those players have been pressed into starting action -- playing more productively than could have been expected -- because of injuries to Matt Holliday and Matt Adams.

Because those players have hit so well, (yes, I consider .242 with five homers and 26 RBIs well for Reynolds who couldn’t hit .200 last year) Kozma hasn’t been able to get any playing time in the outfield where he worked out heavily at spring training. He’s certainly not going to displace Peralta, with a team-high .305 batting average and 11 home runs.

Maybe then he would have a better chance to find a groove at the plate. But manager Mike Matheny can’t afford to gamble on a cooler bat when St. Louis has struggled to score runs this season.

When Holliday makes it back, Kozma’s bat will be less of a factor. But, overall, he’s doing his job: Being ready to play the most demanding infield position when the Cardinals need him.

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