Ryan Ludwick batted .309 with four homers and 14 RBIs in April, a pleasant surprise for the Cardinals considering the big, 29-year-old outfielder wasn't even in the Major Leagues at this time last year. Then, in May, Ludwick got even hotter, smacking nine home runs to go along with 25 RBIs and a .342 average entering the Cardinals' weekend series with the Pirates. After playing in relative obscurity in parts of five previous seasons with the Rangers, Indians and Cardinals, Ludwick is now vying for a spot on the National League All-Star team. He recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com:

MLBPLAYERS.com: How has this year been different than previous seasons?

Ludwick: I think it's more of a confidence thing this year. Last year, I was here and got a lot of experience. I was here for an extended period of time, and I think I proved to myself that I could play at this level. Everybody talks about how this game is 90 percent mental. That really is the majority of the battle.

MLBPLAYERS.com: This is the sixth season that you've played in the Majors. You've certainly paid your dues.

Ludwick: I was an All-Star at every level I had played at. This was the only level I really struggled at. Up until last year, I only had sporadic at-bats up here. It's really difficult to get a feel when you don't play with any regularity. Now, I've been able to build confidence and take a steady approach at the plate. Things have worked out well.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Has St. Louis given you a better opportunity than some of the other clubs you played for?

Ludwick: I wouldn't say that. I just think that I was just unfortunate with some injuries.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Can you detail some of those injuries?

Ludwick: I've had a broken hip, two knee surgeries, a wrist surgery and a stomach ulcer from all the stress. That illness is something I consider a surgery, as they had to put me under for it. You miss a lot of time from the game when you have five surgeries in four years.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What's the hardest part of coming back from an injury?

Ludwick: Regaining your timing -- your timing really gets messed with.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What do you think you learned the most during your time away?

Ludwick: That you have to battle your way back. Being away from the game is tough, especially at this level. When you do come back, you're suddenly thrust into a situation where you're facing a 94-mph fastball with movement on it. That's tough to try and hit when you haven't seen one in awhile. Heck, just seeing it consistently and then trying to hit it is one of the hardest things to do in sports. It's been a grind, but I feel like I am back on track now.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Have you enjoyed hitting in the middle of the Cardinals order between Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus, two proven sluggers?

Ludwick: It's a great pair to be sandwiched between. No doubt about it. The numbers those guys have put up speak for themselves. They have had long careers, and they know how to hit. They have been productive their whole lives. I couldn't ask for a better situation.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you enjoy hitting cleanup?

Ludwick: Yes, I don't mind it. I'm actually fine with wherever they place me in the order. I just want to do what I can do to help the ballclub win.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Defensively, where do you feel your game is right now out in right field?

Ludwick: It's been steady. I just try and go out there and make all of the plays, and I try not to make any errors. I think that's what they expect me to do out there.

MLBPLAYERS.com: You also recently filled in at center field when teammate Rick Ankiel was out due to an injury. How was it patrolling the field out there in center?

Ludwick: I liked it. I approached the position the same way I approach right field -- I just try to get a good jump on the ball and catch it.

MLBPLAYERS.com: And finally, off the field, you live in Las Vegas and went to UNLV. What is the best thing about going to college in Vegas?

Ludwick: For me, it was staying home. Being from there, I really enjoyed being around all of my family and friends during that time in my life. The baseball team there was also the only team that would let me be a hitter, so I was very happy to go there.

Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.