ST. LOUIS -- For the beginning of the year, at least, Cardinals players should be prepared to check the lineup card closely every day when they get to the ballpark. With the exception of Albert Pujols, they may never know what they're going to see.
Manager Tony La Russa has earned a reputation for trotting out large numbers of different lineups over the course of a season, and 2009 may take that tendency to new heights. Pujols will bat third from day to day -- nearly everything else, from the leadoff spot to where the pitcher bats, may be up in the air.
On Monday, for Opening Day, Brendan Ryan led off in place of Skip Schumaker, who will usually hold that spot. Khalil Greene batted cleanup, a position he may occupy more than once in a while against left-handed pitchers. Adam Wainwright hit ninth instead of eighth, despite the fact that third baseman Brian Barden, who hit eighth, could fit as the "second leadoff man" that La Russa likes to have.
La Russa emphasized both Sunday and Monday that he'll be loath to explain every single lineup decision every single day. He did offer some insight on a couple of Monday's calls, though. For one, he explained that the choice of Barden over David Freese had something -- but not everything -- to do with Freese's continuing recovery from a left Achilles tendon injury and the miserably cold weather in St. Louis.
"It's a factor," La Russa said. "But I think he's ready to go. So I'm sure he's going to play on some days that are not ideal. The thought did cross my mind. But that isn't -- that was a minor kind of factor, just one of those things that makes me feel like it was not a bad decision."
As for Greene in the cleanup spot, it may not be an everyday thing. But Ryan Ludwick didn't seem like a good choice given his 1-for-11 career mark against Pirates starter Paul Maholm, and that made Greene a candidate to hit behind Pujols.
"I think it's just important to have somebody that the other club respects," La Russa said. "If you play one club and a guy hits .800 against them, and the other guy hits .100, and the next club you play, those things are exactly reversed, why not switch them? I'm going more by [the fact that Greene had] a solid spring, and when he hit cleanup those four or five times, he was exactly the same hitter."
As for the pitcher's spot, it will change throughout the year. Sometimes the pitcher will bat eighth, to provide that extra hitter in front of Pujols in the third spot. Sometimes, when there's no natural "second leadoff" hitter, the pitcher will bat ninth. On Monday, though, it was less about the No. 9 hitter and more about the No. 7 hitter. La Russa said he did not want Chris Duncan batting in front of the pitcher, and Duncan hit seventh on Monday.
The skipper prefers a bit more speed in front of the pitcher, in order to make bunt plays work better.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.