Cards spring news from Jupiter: 03/15/13

Brian Walton's Friday notes from St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida.

I had forgotten to mention one point made by Mike Matheny following Thursday's game. Asked about the early schedule which includes several days off early, the manager acknowledged that the club could go with four starters initially. He did not rule out the possibility of instead carrying another position player during that time, though it could just mean putting the number five starter in the pen. Or, that pitcher might stay ready by starting in Memphis.

Or, the club could just go with one through five on a regular rotation, even with the days off. Matheny noted that is what he did in 2012, but it will depend on how the pitchers are throwing.

When I asked Matheny if deviating from the normal 1-5 might be disruptive to the routine of the fifth starter, his answer was short and to the point. "We are trying to win games," he replied.

Also from Thursday: Matheny called Shane Robinson "Grapefruit League MVP." While spoken in jest, it is worth noting that he leads the National League in spring batting average (.516), on-base percentage (.571) and even slugging (.968).

The new arrivals among the guest instructors is retired number 42, Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who said this is his first spring training since 1989. He said he didn't like old guys hanging around doing nothing when he played. Matheny has already commented about Sutter's help. "Engine 42" and Jason Motte have a long-standing relationship, for example.

Matheny also singled out the late Dave Ricketts as being most influential to him as a catcher. Lou Brock gave him insight on how to handle baserunners and Bob Gibson advised on late-game strategy. And Red is Red.

Along with Red, former Cardinals catcher Tom Pagnozzi was in camp today, though not in uniform. Former New York Jets star quarterback Joe Namath also attended the game.

The Cardinals will keep on using the designated hitter at home games for awhile as Matheny still views it more important for position players to get at-bats. He said GM John Mozeliak has a cutover date, but he did not recall it. That would seem to imply it is not immediate.

The day after Michael Wacha was sent down, Matheny has not changed his view. "I don't know if he could have made a better statement," the manager said. I asked him several questions around where Wacha might start the season. While noting the groups work closely together, Matheny said that was the minor league staffs' decision. The skipper did note about Wacha, "He is not far away," reminding us that if they want a Double-A player, they will get him, as in Trevor Rosenthal last season.

Speaking of Rosenthal, Matheny did not define his role in the pen, noting his Mujica-Boggs-Motte late-inning plan in 2012 may continue. "Why mess with something that is working," he said. On the other hand, Matheny did not commit to using that formula every day this season.

After the game, Matheny credited the better bullpen work to pitchers not getting beat on their third-best pitch. He specifically said Edward Mujica was making better pitches with his slider. While Fernando Salas is "in a good place," the manager also acknowledged he could be impacted based on how others end camp.

Matheny confirmed that Adam Wainwright would start opening day, which was obvious already given how the rotation was set up. Still it is now official. "It is something that he certainly deserves," Matheny said. The manager would not commit if Jaime Garcia will start the home opener as the rotation would seem to line up. With a day off in the middle, it could allow for some roster manipulation ahead.

Some of the minor league starters like John Gast, Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons could be sent down in a couple of days. Matheny is having a hard time getting them innings.

Hill
Minor league news

Outfielder Virgil Hill and pitcher Burny Mitchem were released on Thursday.

Hill, 23, was the Cardinals' sixth-round pick in 2009 from Los Angeles Mission College. As a professional, the right-handed hitter consistently struggled at the plate. Hill was first tried at full-season Class-A in 2011, but was returned to short-season ball. Back with Quad Cities last year, his line was an uninspiring .204/.274/.350.

The calendar was working against Mitchem, who turns 24 in three weeks. Signed as a non-drafted free agent last June, the 6-foot-6 right-hander competed against much younger players in the Gulf Coast League. There, Mitchem fanned 20 in 32 innings and logged a 2.53 ERA.

This morning, I asked Palm Beach manager Johnny Rodriguez his thoughts on shortstop Alex Mejia. The skipper had not seen the fourth-rounder play until this spring. Rodriguez said he is "impressed," noting Mejia "is always under control." Mejia received special praise for "a high chopper he handled with ease" on Thursday. After Friday's game, as if on cue, pitcher Kurt Heyer tweeted this (probably from the bus back from Port St. Lucie): "Pitched well today. Felt good having Alex Mejia playing behind me again."

When I spoke with Tyrell Jenkins, the right-hander chided me by saying he hadn't seen me in a long time. I joked back, suggesting he stay off the disabled list. Jenkins nodded his head in agreement, saying "My goal is to make every start. I might miss one, but my goal is to make every one."

Minor league starting lineups from Friday

Four games were scheduled, with Memphis and Springfield staying home to face their New York Mets counterparts, while the Class-A clubs bussed to Port St. Lucie to take on the corresponding Mets' teams. I stayed in Jupiter.

The fifth team, Peoria 2, only plays at home on those days Miami is scheduled. However, those players were working out on Fields 3 and 4 while Memphis and Springfield played.

As the lineups indicate, two of the clubs scheduled their mid-game replacements as noted in the center column below.

Memphis Pos Springfield Pos 6th inn.
O'Neill 8 Williams 6 Gil
Curtis 5 Longmire  8 Ramsey
Huffman 7 Stienstra 5
Romak 3 J Rodriguez 3
Cerda DH A Garcia  7 Medina
Swauger 9 Rahmatulla DH Melker
Walsh 4 Martini 9 Swinson
Albitz 6 Montero 2 Keener
Castillo  2 Pritchard 4 Mateo
Whiting 2-3 P Ferrara 2-3 P
Castillo 3 Russell 2
Rondon 2 Delgado 2
Kiekhefer 2 Almarante 2
Palm Beach  Pos 6th inn. Peoria  Pos
B Valera  4 Vargas Williams 8
Wilson 5 Perez 4
C Kelly DH Bryant 7
R De La Cruz 7 Walton Castillo DH
Shaffer 3 Bergin Apelian 9
Young 9 Popkins Argenal 3
Velazco 2 Bean Wick 2
C Valera 6 Mejia Martin 5
Ramos 8 Melchionda 6
Heyer 2 P Villanueva 2-3 P
Petrick 2 Thomas 2
S Lopez 2 Wittels 2
Miranda Paredes 2
Rauh 1-2

Selected velocities from selected pitchers

Pitcher Fb Other pitches Notes
Ferrara 87-88 curve 73-74 allowed HR to RF in 1st inning
Castillo 88-89
Russell 91-92 curve 79 allowed long 2B to RC, then fanned 2
Whiting 91-92
Kiekhefer  85-86
Almarante 91-93 curve 79-81
Delgado 88-90 good sinker, but was hit hard
Rondon 96-98 hard slider 89-90 trouble throwing strikes again
Siegrist 91-93 allowed single and picked him off

My miscellaneous musings

Likely my Player of the Day will be Chad Huffman. The outfielder was stroking the ball with a long home run to left, a double that clanged off the chain link fence in almost the same area and a hard line out to second base. Manager Pop Warner told me he knows Huffman from having been on his team in the Arizona Fall League several years back.

Anthony Garcia made an attempt at a diving, rolling catch on the track in left, but couldn't hold on… On an RBI single against Jose Almarante, first baseman Jonathan Rodriguez executed a nice unassisted play on the cutoff to tag out the runner between first and second… Overheard between two pitchers watching Jorge Rondon throw 89-90 MPH sliders: "His slider is like your fastball." …

Remember to check The Cardinal Nation Blog in the evenings for the day's minor league stats and notes.

Link to Thursday's spring training news from Jupiter
Link to Wednesday's spring training news from Jupiter
Link to working rosters as of 3/14
Link to spring training game schedules

More to come this week...



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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