The Cardinals didn't have their club on the field until nearly two weeks into the spring training schedule, what with minor ailments for shortstop Rafael Furcal (shoulder), outfielder Carlos Beltran (shoulder and flu) and first baseman Lance Berkman (sore left knee) and right-hander Chris Carpenter's neck discomfort caused by a bulging disc.
But manager Mike Matheny said he was pointing to the last 11 days of the Florida spring schedule, with nine of the games at the Cardinals' Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., as the time he needed to see his regulars play more often. Until then, with several long trips on the schedule, he said he felt no rush to play his veterans daily.
"They've got to feel right first," Matheny said. "I can't make them feel right.
"Maybe that's the kind of season we have ahead of us, just making sure guys are right."
Matheny reminded reporters that "this team played 30 days longer than a lot of other teams last year. To discount that would be a mistake. Trying to push these guys through something right now doesn't make sense to me.
"They're going to be ready when the bell rings. When it gets down to the end, they know what's ahead of them. It's not their first rodeo."
For those who were in semi-panic mode that so many regulars had missed so much time, Matheny said, "They have these little things and we put them on the shelf and everybody freaks out. But that's the price I'm willing to pay to make sure they're as healthy as possible."
Berkman got a cortisone shot in his left knee, which was not the knee in which he suffered a ligament tear and had to have surgery a couple of years ago when he was with Houston.
Nonetheless, the left knee had been troublesome.
"It's not any worse than normal," said Berkman. "Every once in a while, it just blows up. It's annoying, because I didn't have to have (a shot) last year at all. I had it done in the off-season before I got to spring training."
OF Allen Craig appeared to be coming along more quickly than expected after offseason knee surgery. Craig began taking batting practice on March 15 and had been doing straight-line running before that. He planned to run bases in the next week or so after that and hoped to play in an exhibition game before the end of camp. Barring a setback, Craig, one of the Cardinals' playoff heroes last year, figured to be ready before the May 1 estimate that had been offered.
In all likelihood, LF
Matt Holliday will fill the No. 3 spot in the batting order where former 1B
Albert Pujols hit for the past 10 years. Holliday, who had batted third in
Veteran RH reliever Scott Linebrink, who was with
The Cardinals, who swiped a league low 57 bases last year, stole 10 in their first 11 attempts this spring although manager Mike Matheny noted that many of the steals were by young players who hadn't been regular players last year. Matheny said, however, he wanted to see those same players be aggressive in the spring games. 2B Tyler Greene has been one of the most active on the basepaths. As a reserve who played only less half the season with the major-league club last year, Greene led the world champions with 11 steals in 11 attempts.
3B David Freese, after a slow start, hit home runs in back-to-back games. Against left-handed pitching, he was batting fourth behind Holliday and ahead of 1B Lance Berkman, when the latter was in the lineup. The World Series Most Valuable Player hit mostly fifth and sixth last season.
INF-OF Skip Schumaker suffered a strained right oblique in swinging at a pitch on March 16. It was similar to the injury he suffered in last year's postseason that cost him an entire series, only Schumaker said the pain was worse this time.
BY THE NUMBERS: 36 - Number of
years since a National League team repeated a World Series title.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not good."
- INF-OF Skip Schumaker's reaction to the oblique injury he suffered on March 16.
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.
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.
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