Allen Craig could make the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster as a pinch-hitter

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The original expectation was that Allen Craig would miss the first month of the season following November surgery on his right knee, but it now appears that he is a realistic option for the Opening Day roster.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Craig took batting practice on the major league side this morning and is likely open the season as a pinch-hitter off the bench.

Craig began playing in minor-league games this week, though he has yet to play in the field. The Cardinals might not clear him for full-game action until mid-April or so, but he could still have some value as a right-handed bat. Once he’s fully-recovered, new Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny will have to find ways to fit him into the lineup. The most obvious possibility is sitting Jon Jay against tough left-handers while playing Carlos Beltran in center field and Craig in right.

Craig, 27, has a .290/.339/.503 batting line and an .842 OPS over his first 343 plate appearances in the majors. He clubbed four home runs during the Cardinals’ postseason run last year, including three against the Rangers in the World Series.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉