Shortly thereafter, I ran across his broadcasting partner for now the third season, Wayne Hagin. At that point, it finally hit me. Who better to help me get up to speed on training camp happenings than those whose job it is to watch every move the Cardinals make?
Hagin eagerly agreed to share his thoughts. Here is a subset of that discussion.
Wayne, how long have you been with the club this spring?
I've been down here eight days. I was delayed a bit coming down because I had that flu bug. Do not get that thing. It is nasty! Oh, ho, is that nasty!
What have you seen so far that most impresses you?
I like the pitching a lot. The starting pitching has been very good. And this weekend, we'll get a treat because we get to see Matt Morris pitch for the first time (on Saturday at Port St. Lucie against the Mets). Way ahead of schedule. Chris Carpenter has been outstanding (this was before he allowed just one run in four innings Friday afternoon). Mulder had a very good second outing. Marquis pitched well. Suppan pitched well. Everybody is pretty much ready to go in that department. Jason Isringhausen is healthy. That is a big key for this ball club.
How do we temper the expected spring enthusiasm in the case of Morris? After all, as you noted, this will be his first trip out there in a game situation.
To see anyone go through shoulder surgery of any extent and to see him throw so free and easy as he is with the velocity that he has, that's the key. It isn't so much the results of what he is doing on the mound quite yet. But, it's that he's able to get out on the mound so early. That is the key. If we can get him back by April 20th, when we are going to need our fifth starter, I think the timeline is perfect for him to do that, barring any setbacks.
Obviously, the situation around the other option for a fifth starter (Rick Ankiel) changed substantially yesterday. Did that surprise you?
That did surprise me. It didn't surprise a couple of the people inside, but it surprised me. Having several conversations late last season, he was ready for this opportunity. He was ready. But, something happened along the way, in winter ball, he kind of got out of his mechanics. It's between the ears. They've tried everything to help him find a solution to his problems. For some unknown reason, it can't be done. One of those situations where you say "What might have been?" He had all the talent.
But, you also have to give Ankiel some credit, don't you? After all, he decided to cut his losses and take a run up a different hill this time.
At age 25, in today's "B" game, he got a base hit, a line drive over shortstop. He's one of those natural athletes. I wouldn't count him out, but I don't know exactly where he will fit into the Cardinals plans.
He's out of options, so he'll have to go down…
He's got to go somewhere, unless somebody picks him up. But, who's going to do that? They're not going to change him back into a pitcher. His future is very much an "if". If this happens… If that happens… But, I don't know what the "if" is going to be.
I thought it was highly unusual the team issued a press release. I suspect some of the rationale was to try to put other teams on notice that they wouldn't be picking up a pitcher.
Exactly right. Exactly right.
What concerns you on the injury front?
Well, Albert Pujols has to bother you because of the foot (heel spurs), but it hasn't seemed to bother him one bit since he got here. He got his first five hits, three home runs and two doubles and then he had a ho-hum RBI single. He's just an amazing player. I just enjoy watching him play and he says he'll play with the pain. So, that's something in the future that they are going to have to a good, hard look at. To see if they can negate it, so he doesn't have to play with it every year. I just think it will take a toll on a player like Albert Pujols.
Scott Rolen's knee has been bothering him a little bit. So, that is a question mark. Larry Walker is in the lineup today, so that is good. He's had lower back problems. So, you have the usual spring training things. But, Rolen, it's obvious that he is not running very, very well. So, that bothers me going into the season.
How are the new guys up the middle doing? I've seen the box scores, so I know they are hitting. How are they looking with the glove?
You have to look very hard. If you have a lower box seat, you might miss Eckstein. (laughs) He is amazing. He's had a good, good spring training. He gets on base. You know, with this lineup, you're in scoring position when you're on first base. That is how good this lineup is. His key is to get on base. He was the second toughest guy to strike out in the American League last year. The key is, I think, is to just let him play and leave him alone. Now, the throwing will get your attention. The first time you see him throw, you'll go "whoa!" cause it's a whole different throw than Renteria. It's about half the velocity and he arcs it. He arcs his throw, similar to when Ozzie Smith had his shoulder problem late in his career, and got rid of the ball so fast. That is what Eckstein does.
I say two words, "just enough". That is how I would describe his throw. It's always just enough to get the out. There's nothing exemplary about it.
How about the guy at second?
Mark Grudzielanek is a guy that I didn't like seeing in the lineup when he was with Montreal and the Cubs. I didn't like him in the lineup because every time, it seemed like he was going to be a tough out. This guy is going to be a good second baseman for us. We need to keep him healthy. I am telling you, nobody is talking about him. This guy is a player. He is a hard-nosed player. I was a big proponent of Tony Womack. But, the one thing he did very poorly was turn the double play; often times eating the ball. Grudzielanek came up as a shortstop, as you know, and as a second baseman, turns that pivot very well. There will be a lot of outs that we didn't get last year.
Let's just hope that we can get 140 to 145 games out of him this season…
I hope he can. Because of that, it is going to be very important to see who the backups will be. Is it going to be Hector Luna? I'd like to have him on this team, but they're also thinking that if he doesn't play everyday, he might be better suited down at Triple-A. Well, I think he is a big part of this team. I don't know if I can send him down.
The other guy who is looking good is Abraham Nunez and the fact that he hits left-handed doesn't hurt, either. He can run just a little bit. We don't have any speed. We really don't have any speed on this team. One thing we are going to do is hit.
Any final comments?
I feel better about this team than I did last year at this time.
Me, too. (I proceeded to tell him my bet story). Thanks for the conversation, Wayne.
Always a pleasure!
Brian Walton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org