When the Cardinals' Adam Kennedy, now 32 years old, gets a chance to play, he's admittedly not very good.
When Adam Kennedy's name is invoked these days in the presence of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, one of the first words out of the skipper's mouth is 'frustrated.'
It fits La Russa, who decided to put Kennedy on a short leash after a lackluster, injury-shortened 2007 season and a tighter collar after the second baseman went AWOL from the Winter Warmup in January. It fits Redbirds fans, who expected more from a ninth-year veteran at peak age.
Most of all, frustration embalms Kennedy, who never expected a scrap for playing time when he signed a three-year, $10 million deal with the Cards before last season. Look at him, talk to him, watch his stats plummet. You can't miss it.
'It's hard to play frustrated,' Kennedy says.
He has never faced anything like this. He was the Cardinals' minor league Player of the Year in 1999; a prospect so hot the Cards used him to obtain Gold Glove outfielder Jim Edmonds from the California Angels after that season. Kennedy spent seven years as the everyday second baseman in Anaheim, where he tied a big-league record with three home runs in one postseason game and won a World Series championship.
Now he watches Aaron Miles and Brendan Ryan — two guys whose combined annual salaries and major league tenures equal roughly half of Kennedy's — play second base. And when Kennedy, now 32 years old, gets a chance to play, he's admittedly not very good.
'I'm just not putting enough good at-bats together to have the success it takes' to stay in the lineup, Kennedy says.
But there's an underlying rub to all this frustration.
Though he doesn't say so directly, Kennedy sounds as if he blames La Russa for not giving him a chance to work through his slump. Perhaps there's lingering resentment over being shoved into a position platoon before the All-Star break last season. That's not the way vets with multi-year contracts usually get treated in this game.
'I'm in a situation where I need to find out how to hit not playing every day,' Kennedy says. 'I've never had to do that, where if you're playing twice a week you have to make the most of those eight or 10 at-bats. But that's how it's gonna be. He's not gonna play me every day. I was hitting good and he didn't play me. That's not gonna happen.'
The 'he' is La Russa. And on one part of this beef, Kennedy is right, which is not to say the manager was wrong: Even when Kennedy was hitting well this season, La Russa penciled Miles or Ryan into the lineup once or twice a week.
Kennedy hiked his batting average as high as .333 on May 5, after a 2-for-5 day at Colorado, the third in a four-game string of starts at second. But since then, he has hit safely only five times in 50 at-bats, once in his last 22, and his average has fallen 91 points.
'He's a pro, a veteran,' La Russa says. 'He knows he has to hit his way through it.'
La Russa tried that approach. From May 8-12, Kennedy played five days in a row, starting four games. But he went 2-for-17 as his average plunged below .300 and kept diving. So La Russa benched him for two games, played him three, benched him, played him two, benched him ...
'I've always been a feel hitter, a groove hitter,' Kennedy says. 'But that's not gonna happen here. I don't have that luxury.'
He has played in 38 of the Cardinals' 54 games. Meanwhile, Miles has played in 37 and is batting .320; Ryan in 25 and is hitting .300 after a 2-for-4 outing in a Wednesday night victory over the Houston Astros.
La Russa says Kennedy 'has always been a winning player, so we expect him to do winning things.'
Right now, though, Kennedy looks like anything but. His body language resembles his average. He speaks words of determination, but his voice sounds of resignation.
'I'm battling,' Kennedy says. 'I'm battling and trying to survive.'
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at (309) 686-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.