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Cards make Greene utility player for now

Cards make Greene utility man for now

ST. LOUIS -- In hopes of averting the kind of spiral that doomed Khalil Greene's 2008 season, the Cardinals have adjusted their plans for how to use their slumping shortstop. For Greene, though, 2009 already bears too much of a resemblance to that lost campaign.

"It's very similar, you know?" Greene said Monday. "In terms of just dealing with different events, I think psychologically, and trying to get into a positive mental state. It's not so much even that. It's not as if it's a controllable thing at times. A lot of the stuff, it's hard to explain, it's not easy to deal with and it's not fun either. It's hard."

The frustration and doubts resulting from Greene's early-season struggles are weighing heavily on him and affecting his play. Thus, for an indeterminate amount of time, manager Tony La Russa will use Greene more as a utility player, rather than as St. Louis' starting shortstop.

It's hoped that the change of pace will have a twofold benefit. One, it will minimize the degree to which Greene agonizes over his day-to-day struggles. Two, it will allow him extra time to work on his game and perhaps allow him to right his swing and his defensive game.

"He's dealing with some personal stuff right now, and he's going to try to work through it," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Speaking with Tony, we thought it was in his best interest that we didn't position this as, him trying to deal with that [while] he had some struggles going on in the field. We still think he has some value to this club. We want to just see that he gets this stuff put behind him sooner than later."

Greene said Monday that the 2009 season has already begun to look too much like an '08 that was so frustrating that he ultimately broke his left hand while punching a storage chest at PETCO Park. That injury ended his '08 season with the Padres.

"It's hard to really pinpoint where it went wrong or where that whole thought pattern kind of got regenerated," he said. "But when it comes on, it's hard to get rid of. I'm going to work through it and try to at least be productive."

Greene's playing time has dwindled lately, as he's scuffled to a .204 batting average, .286 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage. That follows an '08 campaign in which he hit .213/.260/.339.

"Khalil's in a place now where he's struggling, and he's beating himself up," La Russa said. "So I talked to him about, 'Look, I'm going to treat you like more of a utility player for a while.' ... It's an anxiety kind of thing, because you don't feel good about your game. So you come to the park, and maybe some days you play and some days you don't, and you come off the bench."

The year-and-a-half slide has worn heavily on a player who hit 27 home runs as recently as 2007.

"It doesn't go away," he said. "As frustrating as it can be to watch -- of course, fans want guys to produce and perform -- I don't think there's anybody that could understand the depth of how frustrating it can be. Because it's not something I leave at the field. Ideally, that would be the case. I could just be dismissive and get them tomorrow, that type of situation. But I guess the reality of it is, that's not how I'm wired.

"So I have to work extremely hard to get away from the field, mentally. To be able to take that side of it and go home and enjoy the night, that's difficult. And then all morning, waiting to want to get back and try to atone for whatever it is, whatever deficiency I felt like I had or whatever mechanical error or whatever."

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

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