ST. LOUIS -- The season is less than two weeks old, and already Felipe Lopez is playing himself into increased playing time. Lopez had a big night at the plate on Friday and made an excellent play at shortstop in the ninth inning, and that combination earned him a start at short on Saturday. It's a bit of a mixed blessing since the opponent was Johan Santana, but it's a reward just the same.
"I planned to play Brendan [Ryan]," manager Tony La Russa said, "but you tell the guys from Day 1, the more you do, the more you play."
Lopez has done a lot already. He's hitting .280 with a .357 on-base percentage and five extra-base hits. But then, it's no secret that Lopez can hit. What's been striking is his defense. Lopez has showed fine range at three positions and a very strong arm, at least temporarily defying the popular notion that he can be an erratic defender.
"I work at every position," Lopez said. "So I try to keep everything fresh and ready, so I can go to any position and do my job."
It's especially striking that he's been so sharp at shortstop -- admittedly in limited playing time. Though Lopez came up as a shortstop, he's played very little at the position in recent years, and he wasn't all that smooth there in Spring Training. But since the season started, he's fared very well at the infield's most taxing position.
"That's my natural position," Lopez said. "I don't think it ever goes away. I still have my speed and range, and I have a good arm. I don't think that ever goes away."