Second base spot not quite sewn up

Wait a 'second': Position not sewn up just yet

VIERA, Fla. -- A year ago, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa proclaimed that new signee Mark Grudzielanek had nothing guaranteed. Grudzielanek, said the skipper, would have to win the second base job; it wouldn't be given to him.

And then Spring Training started, and Grudzielanek worked every day with new shortstop David Eckstein. He got the at-bats, he got the chances, and there was never any doubt he was the man.

Fast-forward a year, and La Russa could be heard saying many of the same things about new acquisition Junior Spivey, even though Spivey looked like a heavy favorite to win the gig. This time around, though, it looks like there really is some competition.

Spivey will be pushed by Hector Luna, as long as Luna impresses. Aaron Miles, though sidelined, put up a five-hit night in his only full game of the spring thus far.

"If Luna's not playing well, then it's not very competitive," said La Russa. "If Luna's playing well, you've got a competition. If Miles is jumping in there ...

"It's competition. By definition, you can't compete with yourself. So a lot depends on how Luna looks, how Miles looks."

All of which is a long way of saying that while Spivey may be the favorite, he's not a given. La Russa is greatly intrigued by Luna's possibilities. And it's understandable, given that Luna hit .285 with a .344 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage in limited duty in 2005.

Spivey has been an All-Star in the past, but a shoulder injury ended his 2004 and hindered him in 2005. He followed that up with a wrist injury that all but finished him in '05.

So though he knows he's in competition, it's not what he's thinking about most.

"I'm concerned about getting myself ready to play, regardless," he said. "I'm not looking at it like that. You've got to get yourself ready to play, especially at this point in the spring. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Putting energy into things that you have no control over, that's not the way you play this game."

La Russa is taking a similarly long view on Spivey, who had a slow start in games. After showing up early and looking good in workouts, he went hitless in his first 15 Grapefruit League at-bats.

He finally poked a two-run single in extra innings on Wednesday.

"It's no big deal," he said. "I'm not worried about whether I have base hits or not. I just want to have good at-bats."

Luna has impressed in his time in the Major Leagues, but he wasn't happy to be demoted last year, and he batted .224 in 223 at-bats at Triple-A.

That kind of showing can harm a player's standing, but Luna has been able to overcome it.

"It depends on the talent," said La Russa. "It depends on injuries. If a guy is really not putting effort into it, that concerns us. If you've got alternatives, he's hexing himself. But we needed him. He did not distinguish himself in Triple-A -- but we needed him.

"He's had two solid Major League seasons, and it wouldn't surprise me if he went to Triple-A this year and did not distinguish himself again. But I would be surprised if he came up here and did not play pretty well."

At the moment, Luna's chances of at least making the roster look strong. His versatility is a plus for La Russa, and he has shown an ability to hit effectively even with limited playing time.

The greater question is whether he'll be a regular -- this year or ever. Luna knows the chance is there now.

"All I have to do is go and play hard every chance, whether it's practice or games," he said. "There is a bigger opportunity than before, more of a chance. If it's to play one position, or I can also play utility."

Albert Pujols is one of Luna's best friends on the team, and there aren't many better influences in terms of approaching the game. If Luna can begin to match Pujols' drive and dedication, he could be quite a ballplayer.

"I told him, you can have a solid career as a part-time player and make part-time money," La Russa said. "But if you want to be the everyday guy, then you're going to have to have that everyday tenacity like David Eckstein, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, guys on the club that really grind it every day."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.