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Cards happy with first look at Cuban prospect Diaz

JUPITER, Fla. -- With Spring Training winding down and at-bats at a premium, the Cardinals' big league coaching staff likely won't get much more of a look at recent Cuban signee Aledmys Diaz. The glimpse they got Friday, though, offered an appealing first impression.

After returning from Mexico with a work visa, Diaz was cleared to begin playing in Grapefruit League games. The Cardinals initiated him on Friday, starting Diaz at short and having him bat eighth in the lineup. In his first at-bat, Diaz lined a two-strike pitch to left for a single. His next time up, he singled up the middle. Both hits came off former 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.

Those would be the only two at-bats Diaz logged while playing five innings.

"The hardest [hit] is the first one, so I'm happy that it's over with," Diaz said, with front-office employee Luis Morales translating. "More than getting two hits is getting used to playing every day, seeing pitches, being around the clubhouse and getting the chance to play every day."

Diaz won't be able to play every day here in Major League camp, which is why the Cardinals will soon send him out to play regularly in Minor League contests. Whether he makes another Grapefruit League appearance before that point, manager Mike Matheny said, is still to be determined.

While the Cardinals like the experience Diaz can get from working alongside established Major League hitters, the priority right now is getting Diaz on the field as much as possible. He went about 18 months without playing in games while defecting from Cuba and serving a Major League Baseball-issued suspension until signing a four-year contract with the Cardinals on March 9.

"I understand that I'm not in the perfect shape to play every day," Diaz said. "But that's part of why I'm here working out, going to the field and giving it 100 percent to be at that ultimate condition."

Diaz is projected to begin the season with Double-A Springfield, which opens its season several days after the big league team. That will allow additional time for Diaz to condition himself for game play while in Florida. Before that process starts in full, though, the Cardinals wanted to get at least one look.

"We need to get him exposed to this, and we're running out of time before he needs to go back there and get work," Matheny said. "We said it -- as soon as we got a chance to look at him, we wanted to see him. Just see some of the things that come natural for him and see where the gaps are. We know where there are going to be gaps; we just need to see where they are so we can help him fast forward through some of the stumbles he might have."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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