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Lankford wages his own arms race

March 17, 1997

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Every once in a while this spring, Ray Lankford gets to pinch hit.

That’s just a small taste of the action for the St. Louis Cardinals’ center fielder, who’s recovering from offseason surgery for a torn rotator cuff on his throwing shoulder. Although he looks fine swinging the bat, his arm is nowhere near close to ready.

``Guys see me swing and they say I look like I’m ready,″ Lankford said. ``But I’m not throwing.″

The prognosis: When the rest of the team goes north at the end of the month, Lankford probably will stay behind for extended spring training to get ready. His season won’t start until May.

With Lankford out, first baseman John Mabry likely will move to right field most of the time and rookie Dmitri Young will move to first. Veteran Willie McGee also will get extra playing time during the first month.

Last year, Lankford was one of the more dangerous second-place hitters in the game last year with a .275 average, 21 home runs, eight triples and 86 RBIs. This spring, he mostly watches.

``I’ve been at the point where I could hit for the longest time, it’s just being able to throw,″ Lankford said. ``I can throw it, but there’s not much going to be on the ball.

``It’s like somebody being right-handed and trying to throw with the left hand.″

Lankford was injured on the final weekend of the regular season, diving for a ball in shallow center field in the 10th inning. He tried to play in the playoffs and started one game in center field, but went 0-for-11 in the first three games against Atlanta before he was benched.

``I threw, but there wasn’t anything on it,″ he said. ``It was hurting, but I wasn’t going to holler every time.″

Manager Tony La Russa said Lankford has made significant progress since the start of training camp in mid-February. But he pleads patience.

``We’re not pushing him at all,″ La Russa said. ``Throwing, he could do something crazy and hurt himself. He’s still a long ways from playing.″

Lankford said during workouts sometimes his arm feels fine, until he sits down for a minute or two and everything gets tight. He figures it’s a good idea to stay in Florida at the start of the season so the cold weather won’t hold him back.

``I’m just trying to keep things in perspective, not trying to jump ahead of myself,″ Lankford said. ``I’m trying to do a little here, a little there. Some days, the range of motion is better than others.″

La Russa said there’s a chance Lankford might start in some games late in spring training.

``But the priority is going to be to get the club that’s going to start the season ready,″ La Russa said. ``He might make a few appearances, but he needs to get his work in and he shouldn’t be there just kind of in reserve.″

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