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La Russa: A Healthy Bonilla A Plus

February 23, 2001

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) _ St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony La Russa is not the least bit concerned about Bobby Bonilla’s image. He is worried about his knees.

Bonilla, who turned 38 Friday, is trying to earn a berth on his eighth major league club.

``Bobby Bonilla is a good man and a capable pro,″ La Russa said. ``If he’s healthy, he’ll be a positive influence on this club. He can be a classic fourth outfielder.″

Once baseball’s highest-paid player, Bonilla accepts the fact that he’s now a role player.

``I’m going to be coming off the bench. It is going to be very much like last season with Atlanta, and I don’t have a problem with that,″ he said.

Bonilla hit .255 for the Braves last season.

``I could have stayed with the Braves, but Tony called me four or five times and told me exactly what he wants me to do,″ Bonilla said. ``I’m excited about being here. My knees are healthy and they were healthy last year. I was able to do some nice things and hope to do the same here.″

Despite playing on several playoff teams, Bonilla developed an image as a trouble-marker while playing with the New York Mets. He blamed the New York media.

``You can take that for what it’s worth,″ he said.

``He was a team leader in Pittsburgh and with the Marlins,″ La Russa said. ``The question mark is his knees. We are anxious to see how he’s moving. He’s an intelligent guy and he fits us really, really well as long as he’s healed.″

In other news, right-hander Garrett Stephenson seems to think he will need surgery on his right elbow.

Stephenson experienced more pain while tossing on Wednesday and won’t throw again until Monday at the earliest.

Stephenson, a 16-game winner last season, knows it won’t be long before the Cardinals must make a decision.

``I’ve got to be optimistic, but I’m losing a little bit (of optimism,″ he said.

Stephenson said he was ``scared″ by the mention of surgery. But he added, ``If it has to be done, I just want to be ready by next spring training. I don’t want to wait, wait, wait, wait and then get surgery in April or May and I’m out two years.″

La Russa isn’t counting on Stephenson.

``It’s always healthier to prepare for something not working so that you’re not caught short-handed,″ La Russa said. ``In this case, there’s been more news that he’s not going to be available a lot than there is news that it’s all coming together.″

Also Friday, Rick Ankiel worked out at 7:15 a.m., away from the watchful eye of the media.

La Russa said it was a good workout.

``Ankiel has been out four times so far and has one bad (session),″ La Russa said. ``He had another good workout today and he’s moving forward. We are just being really careful with him.″

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