Wilson up to being man in the middle

Wilson up to being man in the middle

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It hasn't been that long since Preston Wilson was nothing but a center fielder. Last season, as he recovered from knee problems, the Astros considered him anything but a center fielder.

Wilson may get a look at his old position this spring, though. Jim Edmonds, the Cardinals' regular center fielder, is expected to start the season on the disabled list. So is Juan Encarnacion, who played a great deal of center when Edmonds was out last year.

That leaves So Taguchi, Skip Schumaker and Wilson. Taguchi and Schumaker probably offer slicker fielding, but Wilson is the only power threat of the bunch, making him intriguing to manager Tony La Russa.

Entering his 10th big-league season, Wilson welcomes the chance to roam the familiar territory.

"It felt pretty normal out there," Wilson said after getting his first start in center this spring, on Friday night against the Braves. "There are some little things that you remember, once you get out there and feel it a little bit. You'll start seeing things, moving a little bit, breaking on different pitches. You get an idea of what's happening out there.

"It was nice to be back out there. I like it out there."

Wilson's tenure with the Astros in 2006 ended in frustration, as he was released before his signing with St. Louis. One element of his time in Houston that irritated him was that he never felt he was taken seriously as a viable choice in center.

"Last year, I think it was just that for some reason, Houston wanted to play anybody other than me in center field," Wilson said. "They played Jason Lane and Chris Burke. I think I was probably the fifth guy to play center field, when I actually did play there at some point last year."

Wilson dealt with knee problems for much of 2004, undergoing two operations on the joint. He played mostly center in 2005, but in '06, he was positioned almost exclusively on the corners. He likes the way he's moving now, though, and expects to be able to hold his own in the middle of the outfield.

"Coming off of the knee surgeries, I didn't spend much time in center, but it doesn't mean that I can't play center field," he said. "There's a lot more to center field than just being fast. There are a lot of guys who run like the wind but can't play center."

Wilson may be finding his comfort zone at the plate following a two-hit game on Friday that also included his third walk of the spring. He struggled mightily upon his return to the lineup after a bout with biceps tendinitis earlier in the spring, but the right-handed hitter has been coming along lately.

"He just needs to play," said hitting coach Hal McRae. "I thought he swung the bat better [on Friday]. When the time comes, he'll be ready."

Though La Russa has publicly said he'd like to see more production from the veteran outfielder, Wilson continues to focus on the process rather than the results.

"It's all about trying to establish habits that are going to carry you through a long season, instead of worrying so much about getting two hits in a Spring Training game," he said. "You can [get some hits] and not feel like you're accomplishing what you want and not have the consistent feel of what you're trying to do."

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