Cardinals major league notebook: 03/04/12

Improving the St. Louis Cardinals defense up the middle is a 2012 priority. A full season of Rafael Furcal at shortstop should help substantially.

INSIDE PITCH

 

The Cardinals were among the worst defensive teams for much of the season last year, but the fact that shortstop Rafael Furcal will be on hand from the beginning of the season should made a significant difference.

"A team that preaches pitching to contact, working ahead in the count, getting groundballs, you better have a shortstop who can help you out, or else you're going to have some trouble in your philosophy," manager Mike Matheny said.

Lance Berkman, who has moved to first base from right field, will be handling Furcal for the first time but isn't at all concerned.

"When you have a premier defensive shortstop like Raffy, it kind of settles everyone around him," Berkman said. "The pitcher feels more comfortable. You end up having quicker innings. It minimizes the chances that you're giving the other team.

"He takes outs away. He takes base hits away. It's a big component that can't be overlooked. It's why I do feel like we have a very solid defensive infield. We have a chance to be a very good defensive infield."

Furcal and Berkman will be joined by third baseman David Freese, who should be a bit more mobile another year removed from dual ankle surgeries, and Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene or incumbent Skip Schumaker will be at second base.

The Cardinals led the majors in unearned runs allowed last season at 84. But, with Furcal at shortstop in the last two months of the season, Jon Jay full-time in center field and with Carlos Beltran now in right field, the Cardinals should not win that category again.

Freese said, "When you're in the hunt, you can get that big hit and you can keep putting runs on the board, but if you're not making the plays and adding that spectacular play to keep that momentum, then your shot at grabbing the ring minimizes."

NOTES, QUOTES 

RHP Chris Carpenter, who is slated to pitch the first game of the season on April 4 in Miami, will be the last of the five starters to appear in a Grapefruit League game. "He's ready," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's just tempering it." Carpenter is tinkering with his delivery. "I need to get back in command," he said. "Not of my pitches, but my body. I feel like the last few years I haven't paid as much attention to getting my body in the proper spot mechanically. What I was paying attention was trying to find a way to get the ball to where the glove is."

Manager Mike Matheny said that the improvement between what he saw last year from C Bryan Anderson and what he's seen this spring is the largest at any time in Anderson's career. "He's making a conscious effort for what it takes on the communicative aspect with these guys," Matheny said. "He's impressed all of us. Our whole catching corps has impressed us with the way they've gone about it." Anderson is battling young Tony Cruz and former Chicago Cubs C Koyie Hill for the backup job to Yadier Molina.

2B Skip Schumaker spent the early part of spring training in the infield before moving to the outfield for other drills. Schumaker figures to be a utility player this season, likely to see as much time in the outfield, his natural position, as at second base, to where he was converted three years ago.

3B David Freese, who had to be monitored last season as he recovered from two ankle surgeries, will be watched closely this spring, too, manager Mike Matheny said. "I think it's being smart and trying to stick to a program that was put together last year," Matheny said.

BY THE NUMBERS: $508,000 - 3B David Freese's salary for 2012. He was the hero of the 2011 World Series.

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't overstate what having him means."

- RHP Adam Wainwright, after C Yadier Molina was signed to a five-year extension.

 

ROSTER REPORT

 

Projected Rotation:

1. RHP Chris Carpenter

2. RHP Adam Wainwright

3. LHP Jaime Garcia

4. RHP Kyle Lohse

5. RHP Jake Westbrook

 

The return of Wainwright, a year removed from elbow surgery, should made a good rotation even stronger. Garcia, who has won in double figures twice in his first two full seasons, might be ready for a breakthrough year if he can avoid being distracted during games.

 

But if Wainwright is right, the Cardinals had the two aces (Wainwright, Carpenter) with which they figured they would start last season.

 
Projected Bullpen (pick seven):

RHP Jason Motte (closer)

RHP Fernando Salas

RHP Lance Lynn

RHP Kyle McClellan

RHP Eduardo Sanchez

LHP Marc Rzepczynski

LHP J.C. Romero

RHP Mitchell Boggs

 

Motte, a late-season success as a closer, will be the Cardinals' ninth inning man at the start of the season. Salas, who had 24 saves last year, will be a reliable setup man but the club is hoping to find another veteran to help in late innings.

 

Lynn, a postseason success, might begin the season at Class AAA Memphis if the club envisions him as a starter. Rzepczynski is a versatile left-hander who can also retire right-handed hitters and doesn't have to be employed only in situational roles.

 
Projected Lineup:

1. SS Rafael Furcal

2. RF Carlos Beltran

3. LF Matt Holliday

4. 1B Lance Berkman

5. 3B David Freese

6. CF Jon Jay

7. C Yadier Molina

8. 2B Daniel Descalso

 

Newcomer Beltran could hit second, third or fifth, although new manager Mike Matheny seems inclined to have Holliday bat third. When OF-1B Allen Craig (knee surgery) returns in early May, if not before, Beltran could move to center field against left-handed pitching.

 
Top Rookies:

RHP Shelby Miller may be on the fast track to the majors. The 21-year-old Miller, who throws in the mid-90s, was a combined 11-6 at Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield last year. He is fewer than three years removed from being the club's top pick in the 2009 draft. Also to be watched is 24-year-old Erik Komatsu, a Rule 5 pick from Washington. Komatsu, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, hit a combined .277 in the Milwaukee and Washington systems last year.


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