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Cardinals to use Pujols at 2 positions after all

Albert Pujols will play leftfield and third base for the Cardinals this season, breaking with the preseason plans of manager Tony La Russa.

"Albert playing left and third is in the best interest of this team right now," La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In December, La Russa named Pujols, last year's NL rookie of the year, the starting third baseman. La Russa insisted the move was permanent and not an experiment.

The move makes space for Placido Polanco, who is batting better than .400 this spring, at third base. La Russa said he made the decision because playing Pujols at third full time might mean reduced playing time for Polanco.

"I was totally surprised. I had no idea that was his thinking," Pujols said. "I'm not angry or upset by it because it helps the team. But I am surprised."

Longtime Cardinals executive Jim Toomey died Sunday of brain cancer in St. Louis. He was 84.

ASTROS: C.J. Nitkowski was released, meaning the club probably will start the season without a left-handed long reliever.

D'BACKS: Left-hander Brian Anderson had his best spring outing, blanking the A's on three hits through five, and seems to have wrapped up the No. 3 spot in the rotation. "You come in as the fifth guy who might get skipped the first time through the rotation, then the manager has no qualms about saying you're going to start the third game of the year," he said. "That definitely feels good."

DODGERS: Right-hander Eric Gagne, being prepared for the closer's role, pitched a perfect sixth with two strikeouts against the Orioles. Right-hander Paul Quantrill, a part of the closer-by-committee mix, gave up three unearned runs in the eighth.

GIANTS: The team said outfielder Barry Bonds' right hamstring strain is mild and shouldn't keep him out more than a day or two.

METS: New York purchased the contract of infielder John Valentin and added him to their 40-man roster. Public relations director Jay Horwitz was hit on the top of the left foot by a foul ball near the clubhouse and had to have his foot wrapped. The injury was a bruise.

ROCKIES: Right-hander Chuck Smith was acquired from the Marlins for future considerations and a player to be named. Smith was 5-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 15 games last season. Right-hander Jose Paniagua, a Rays expansion draft pick, was traded to Detroit for minor-league right-hander Victor Santos and infielder Ronnie Merrill, who went to Jesuit High.

_ TIMES WIRES

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