Cardinals make their move early

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Minutes after walking into the St. Louis Cardinals’ clubhouse, Mark DeRosa was already getting tips from Albert Pujols.

Manager Tony La Russa had him batting cleanup behind Pujols and DeRosa was happy to be with an NL Central contender after a half-season in the American League.

“I just want to be a piece to the puzzle,” DeRosa said. “I’m excited to be here and to be back in the National League and be a part of a division race that I have a lot of familiarity with.”

Hundreds of fans stood and applauded before DeRosa’s first at-bat with his new team, a groundout in the second inning.

The Cardinals made their move early a year after failing to pull off an impact trade. St. Louis was in a virtual tie for the NL Central lead despite a void at third base, with Troy Glaus still rehabbing from January shoulder surgery and no return imminent.

La Russa said acquiring DeRosa, a key player for the Chicago Cubs in 2007-08, was a huge shot of adrenaline.

“We’ve been struggling,” La Russa said. “For a while we’ve been having guys leave the park not happy and adding a bat will help them relax some.

“That’s the plan. Now follow that plan.”

Players felt a change, too. Aside from Pujols, who led the majors with 28 homers and 74 RBIs, the Cardinals’ offense has struggled. La Russa started DeRosa in left field Sunday and can also use him at third base, second base and right field.

Cleanup hitters had been batting .220, worst in the NL, with 13 homers and 48 RBIs.

“I think it’s an outstanding move,” closer Ryan Franklin said. “It can’t do anything but help us.”

DeRosa cost the Cardinals Chris Perez and a player to be named. Perez had seven saves last year, was part of a three-way competition for the closer job in spring training, and was the Indians’ choice over fellow hard-throwing righty Jason Motte.

The 34-year-old DeRosa will be a free agent after this year, but Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said team chairman Bill DeWitt judged it a price worth paying.

“Sometimes you have to look at short-term decisions vs. long-term planning and he recognized we have something special going on and didn’t want to leave it for chance that things would just get better,” Mozeliak said. “We understood the cost and we went ahead and did it.”

DeRosa said he wouldn’t approach it as a three-month audition.

“I won’t put that pressure on myself, but it’s definitely out there,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and play the same way every day — play hard, hustle, move guys over if I have to, get bunts down, whatever it takes to win.”