Ryan shows no rust in Grapefruit debut

Ryan shows no rust in Grapefruit debut

JUPITER, Fla. -- Judging by his performance on Saturday, it didn't look as if Brendan Ryan was making his 2010 Grapefruit League debut.

Ryan had surgery on his right wrist on Feb. 9 and had been unable to spend any time in the batting cages until about a week ago. He saw his first live pitching on Saturday but looked as though he had been playing all spring.

Ryan, who became the Cardinals' starting shortstop last June, went 2-for-3, including a double, and was flawless in the field in the Redbirds' 6-5 win over the visiting Mets before a sellout crowd at Roger Dean Stadium. He struck out in his third at-bat before leaving the game, but there was nothing but positives for the right-handed hitter.

"I kind of expected [the day] to really go like the last at-bat," Ryan said when asked of his expectations before the game.

He had reason to feel that way after going 1-for-5 in a Minor League game on Friday morning on the back fields of the Roger Dean complex. He struck out swinging on three pitches in his first at-bat, grounded out and popped up twice.

Manager Tony La Russa said on Saturday morning that Ryan originally was going to play in another Minor League game, but the club decided to give him a look against the Mets and Major League umpiring a day or two before he was expected to make his Grapefruit League debut.

"It's easier to judge him with us watching him," La Russa said.

And what La Russa saw pleased him.

"Seeing Ryan bounce back like he did ... I never underestimate talented people," La Russa said. "He gave us a lift."

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La Russa also hinted that he didn't think Ryan's performance was a fluke, because Mets starter John Maine "was throwing the ball really well."

Ryan still experiences some pain in his wrist but has not rushed his rehab. During his layoff, he did some drills with his left hand, and about two weeks ago began hitting off a tee and doing some soft toss in the batting cage. He starting taking some batting practice about a week ago.

"I worked with [hitting coach Mark McGwire] all offseason, and I'm trying not to let all of that go to waste," Ryan said. "But we've been pretty conservative. We hit the time line [to return] a day early, actually. We're right where we planned to be."

Ryan, who batted second in the lineup on Saturday, admitted that he didn't know how he would perform after Friday's Minor League game.

"[Friday] was tough," he said. "I'm trying to work the count as deep as possible so I can see as many pitches as I can. That's probably not what I need to do during the regular season, but I'm trying to make up for lost time, so I need to see as much as I can and not worry about the results."

Ryan, a defensive standout at shortstop, also made an outstanding play in the field on Saturday. He charged a slow grounder by Alex Cora and threw out Cora in the fifth inning, drawing raves from starter Adam Wainwright after the game.

"I'm surprised he didn't throw it between his legs, behind his back or something," Wainwright said. "Defensively, he's a wizard. He is very, very gifted. We need him out there. He knows the importance he has to this team and what he brings to our team defensively, and he can hit, too."

Sunday will be another test to see how Ryan's wrist responds after hitting live pitching for the first time since the surgery. Everything felt fine on Saturday, though.

"It was a blast," Ryan said.

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.