PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) -Cesar Izturis has more errors than hits this spring, not exactly a mark of distinction for the St. Louis Cardinals' new shortstop.
But Tony La Russa has been steadfast in his support. The questions come daily, and the manager keeps repeating that he's confident Izturis, who hasn't been a regular the last two seasons, is the right man for the job.
``I don't in any way, shape or form think Cesar Izturis is fighting it this spring,'' La Russa said Saturday. ``He's showing everything defensively we want to see.''
La Russa didn't stop there with the praise for the player who's set to replace 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein, who left for a free agent deal in Toronto.
``He's turning double plays as good as any shortstop that we've ever had in the years I've been managing,'' La Russa said.
La Russa said statistics can be misleading and don't reflect the way Izturis has been taking competitive at-bats lately or helping with speed on the bases. Still, Izturis is batting only .125 (4-for-32) with six total bases and no RBIs after a day off on Saturday.
Worse than his lack of production at the plate is a team-leading five errors for a player whose calling card is defense.
``It's one of those things where spring training is very deceptive,'' La Russa said. ``If you want to rely on statistics, you're going to be in for a disappointment because they will disappoint you.''
Izturis batted .258 last year for the Cubs and Pirates. After starting on opening day for the Cubs, he ended up with 341 at-bats.
The Cardinals represent his shot to return to regular duty. Brendan Ryan will challenge for playing time after a strong rookie season, but Ryan also will fill in at third base and shortstop. At this point, despite the lack of production, it's Izturis' job to lose.
``So far, so good,'' Izturis said. ``It's a new season and I've got a chance here.''
Izturis said the only thing he can do is play well the rest of spring training and show his team his shaky start and high error count was nothing to worry about.
``It's part of the game, nothing you can control,'' Izturis said. ``Everything bad that happens down here, you don't bring into the season.
``We're here to get ready for the season and hopefully that won't happen up there.''
From a comparison standpoint, La Russa said Ryan, who batted .289 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 180 at-bats as a rookie, has been more erratic at shortstop this spring than Izturis. He also said Ryan had played a bit ``out of control.''
Izturis, a budget pickup at $2.85 million, won't replace Eckstein in the leadoff slot given his low career on-base percentage of only .295. He is a better fit at the bottom of order. He has only four steals the last two years, although hamstring woes that slowed him are no longer a factor.
``The legs we've seen so far would be a plus for us,'' La Russa said. ``He can steal some bases and he can go first to third as well as anybody.''
The package, La Russa insists, is a plus.
``I'm excited about him being a winning player for our club,'' La Russa said. ``That's exactly the way I would describe what I've seen from him. His whole game - and he's still got a couple more weeks left to get more timing.''
La Russa's final word on the subject: ``If somebody's better than Izturis, we'll play him.''

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