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Craig, Stavinoha battling for roster spot

Craig, Stavinoha battling for roster spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- With about a week and a half left until the Cardinals face the Reds on Opening Day, there seems to be just one competition remaining in camp.

Jaime Garcia is expected to be the No. 5 starter -- though that is not yet official -- which would slide Kyle McClellan into the final bullpen spot. And because of his ability to play center field -- and other elements that point in his favor, of course -- Joe Mather's spot off the bench is seemingly solidified.

But what about that 12th position player?

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Assuming the infielders are healthy going into the regular season, that's a spot that has seemingly come down to two versatile outfielders on the 40-man roster: Allen Craig and Nick Stavinoha.

"That would be an awesome accomplishment," said Stavinoha about cracking the 25-man roster. "Somebody's going to have to make the team, somebody's going to have to start in [Triple-A] Memphis, most likely. Anything can happen, but that seems to be the case. It'd be nice to start there this year for the first time."

Stavinoha has the advantage of big league experience, has had the better spring -- though both he and Craig have been good -- and has shown he can be successful as a pinch-hitter.

But manager Tony La Russa pointed out on Wednesday that Craig hasn't shown he can't be a good pinch-hitter, and added that both are pretty similar.

"I think there are a lot of similarities," La Russa said. "They both play first base, both play the corner. If you need infield experience, I think you put them in the infield."

Craig was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 after batting .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs for Triple-A Memphis. There really isn't much doubt that the 25-year-old -- an eighth-round Draft choice in 2006 -- is ready for his first big league callup, but he may have to wait.

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Craig certainly hopes that's not the case.

"I've worked hard to get where I'm at. I feel like I've done well, and it'd be the icing on the cake to make the team," said Craig, who is batting .289 with two homers and eight RBIs this spring.

"But I don't really make the business decisions. My job is to go out there and do what I can on the field and do my best in any situation that I'm put in. That's my mindset: I can't really control who else is doing what in the room and what the guys in the front office are going to decide."

This is Stavinoha's third time in big league camp, but he admits it's the first time he's really had a shot at the Opening Day roster.

Last year he hit .230 while appearing in 39 games and, most impressively, went 5-for-15 (a .333 batting average) as a pinch-hitter.

But, according to La Russa, "No one has a significant edge."

Considering that the Cardinals' roster -- which at the beginning of camp had 55 players -- is starting to take shape, it's not easy to keep from doing roster math if you're Craig or Stavinoha.

"It's hard to stay away from that, but you try your best to," Stavinoha said. "But I don't think you can think about those things too much, because if you do, it's going to start clogging your head, and your focus is going to get taken out of what you're trying to accomplish. All you can think about is that. Then you put so much pressure on yourself."

Alden Gonzalez 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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