Notes: Rodriguez feels at home

Notes: Rodriguez feels at home

MIAMI -- It still all seems like such a dream for John Rodriguez, who has gone in the last two years from a forgotten career Minor Leaguer with the Yankees to being the main platoon player in left field for the Cardinals.

"This was a fresh new start for me," Rodriguez said before the Cardinals concluded their three-game series with the Marlins on Sunday at Dolphin Stadium. "And everything has just clicked."

Rodriguez, traded to the Cardinals on June 9 last year from the Indians, where he had signed as a free agent in 2005, hit 17 home runs in 34 games with Triple-A Memphis to get a July 18 callup from the Cardinals to replace the injured Reggie Sanders. He hit .295 the rest of the season in 149 at-bats.

He's been even better thus far this year, batting .429 in 42 at-bats. In the last five games he's started, manager Tony La Russa has hit the left-handed swinger second in the lineup, an acknowledgement of how highly he thinks of him. Rodriguez is likely to continue to see regular playing time even when Larry Bigbie (heel) comes off the disabled list any day now.

"I'm not here for the stats; I'm here to help the Cardinals win," Rodriguez said of his fast start. "That's all I'm thinking about."

The 28-year-old said he never thought about quitting, but it tested his will during eight seasons as a Yankee Minor Leaguer, the last two in Triple-A.

"Even when spots were opened," he said, "they went out and got their veterans, guys who could help them win right now. I wouldn't say that they didn't believe in me, but I guess they thought I wasn't the right fit for their team. Things like that happen. I'm just glad I'm over here now. St. Louis is where I want to be for the rest of my career."

Interestingly, Rodriguez had come into the pro game as a bargain basement special. After he finished high school in Manhattan, a friend wrangled a tryout for him with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, along with about 100 other candidates. As it turned out, his friend knew the cop running the security detail for the tryout, and the cop asked the scout in charge, Caesar Presbot, about including him.

"He was like, 'Sure, bring him down,' just doing it as a favor," Rodriguez said. "Lo and behold, that was me. I had a great tryout and that's how I got into pro ball."

Rodriguez fully appreciates the circuitous route he has taken to the Cardinals. Even with the increased job security he has earned over the last two years, he remains humble. He still is taking nothing for granted.

"Ever since the trade from Cleveland, it's been a dream come true for me," he said. "I just love this game. Even if I never made it to the Majors, I would have played in the Minors as long as they let me."

Second base platoon working: The Cardinals have settled into a platoon of Hector Luna and Aaron Miles at second base, and La Russa is happy with it. "It's one of the things that's been working out," he said.

While La Russa said there is "sometimes no rhyme or reason" why he starts one over the other in a given game, he has seen Luna hit .333 in 60 at-bats thus far and Miles .292 in 65.

"I've been able to play enough where I feel I'm not getting rusty," said Miles, who was to start at second base in Sunday's game here. "It's working out well for everybody. We're getting a lot of production out of the second base position."

Miles, a switch-hitter, came into the season with a better history as a left-handed hitter, yet he has done better this year as a right-handed hitter. And La Russa has noticed -- the Marlins were to pitch a left-hander on Sunday.

"It's good to know I can start against anybody," Miles said.

Traded from the Rockies, Miles said the most exciting thing about it is "the prospect of playing in October," meaning the playoffs. "That would be the biggest thing in my baseball career," he said.

McRae has learned to keep it short: Hal McRae, the Cardinals' veteran hitting coach, says during the season, he seldom will get into a long dialogue about game specifics with his players, unless they do much of the talking.

"You try to keep it short with them," McRae said. "That's because they're in the heat of battle. Guys have to play. They have a lot on their minds. I just try to say what's necessary. Sometimes you just say, 'You had a good at-bat.'"

McRae, who has been in the pro game an amazing 41 years, believes in keeping things as simple as possible.

"You might vary what you say, but all you're trying to get across is, 'Get a good pitch to hit,'" he said. "That's all you're really saying."

Coming up: Jason Marquis (3-3, 5.50 ERA) tries to overcome a recent rough stretch when the Cardinals face Jeff Francis (1-2, 3.60 ERA) and the Rockies in a 7:10 p.m. CT game on Monday at Busch Stadium.

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.