La Russa examines worst-case scenarios for ailing McGwire

Of The Post-Dispatch
The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.

HOUSTON - Mark McGwire didn't even want to discuss the concept. And manager Tony La Russa admits it's "way-out speculation on my part."

But what if the injured McGwire can't play in the field the rest of the season?

"Who knows?" La Russa said. "We'll make him a pinch-hitter - if that's what it takes. I'm sure he's not going to like it. He didn't like going on the disabled list. But we want to make sure we take our best shot, if that's our best shot.

"Hopefully, it doesn't come down to that," La Russa said. "But if he's not going to play first base any more this year, then he's going to be a pinch-hitter. He'll get their attention. Leading off an inning. Bases loaded and one out ... what's the difference? He'd be a weapon that way, if that's the worst that it is.

"But, obviously, we all want him to be a player, not a pinch-hitter."

McGwire's 15 days on the disabled list because of patellar tendinitis in his right knee elapsed Saturday. But he will remain on the list for at least several days longer and perhaps many more. He had a brief workout Wednesday in Phoenix, and he was sore afterward.

"(That) happened because he's still got a problem," La Russa said.

McGwire had a brace on his left knee Saturday to try to even out the strength in the knees.

"There's no timetable," McGwire said. "And, as far as I was concerned, there was no timetable at the beginning. The problem is that people think that when the 15 days is up, you're ready to play. But I'm not even close. I'm very, very sore. I feel like it's going to tear. It's a tearing, burning thing. I was very depressed when I came to the ballpark on Thursday.

"I'm sort of flabbergasted because I don't know when I'll be able to play. People say that when you have a severe case of tendinitis, it's at least six to eight weeks. I've been playing with it the whole year. But the last two weeks, before I went on the DL, it was just unbearable.

"So, until this is 99 percent gone to 100 percent gone, I'm not going to (play)."

La Russa said: "I wish he wouldn't say that. He's played a lot of games for the Cardinals where he wasn't anywhere near 90 percent. I don't know how carefully he said that. But that (100 percent) shouldn't be the test, right?"

Frustration is everywhere.

"When you have expectations at the level where you are, I don't expect and people don't expect me to be at any less than that," McGwire said. "I was doing pretty well until the last couple of weeks, but I wasn't myself.

"I'll be back. I don't know when. The whole thing is about patience.

"I have look at the mirror and understand I am almost 37 years old. And a 37-year-old body doesn't heal like a 25-year-old body. I think that's the biggest thing I've come to grips with. I still feel like I'm 19 inside but sometimes when you have an injury, it takes longer than the younger kids."

McGwire said there has been one advantage of sitting in the dugout for two weeks and watching games. "I know one thing. I'm going to really enjoy coaching. I really enjoy watching hitters hit," he said.

McGwire won't be coming off the disabled list Sunday, nor will outfielder J.D. Drew (sprained ankle), although Sunday is his scheduled day. La Russa noticed Drew limping through some side-to-side running drills in the outfield before Saturday's game.

"Yesterday it felt good. I had a good workout. Today, it's pretty tight. I've got a little bit of inflammation," Drew said. "I'm trying to gauge myself for Tuesday or Wednesday. Hopefully, I can come back (Sunday) and get some good work in and pick the pace up a little bit. I'm going to get on some anti-inflammatories and see how it goes."

Are the Cincinnati Reds giving up or just trying to get the best they can get for shortstop Barry Larkin, whom they said they would not re-sign at some $9 million a year? "A little bit of both," one Cardinals official said.

La Russa said: "Maybe they'll trade him for a couple of prospects and sign him back this winter. But I don't worry about it. They know what they're doing."

Reds manager Jack McKeon was critical recently about the Houston Astros' decision to remove the roof at Enron Field after the sixth inning of games, mostly night games. McKeon thought the field played differently with the roof off rather than on.

But La Russa said Saturday, "What difference does it make?

"I think if you've got the ability to create an open-air ballgame ... any chance you've got, create it. I like it better when I can see the sky.

"It's the same for both teams. I see nothing wrong with it."

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