The ace versus his replacement?
The Cardinals versus the Redbirds.
No matter how you bill it, as the Memphis Redbirds are set to entertain their St. Louis Cardinals parent for a pair of exhibition games this weekend, the Friday night contest is one to make sure you watch. Fortunately, the 7:05 p.m. CDT game at AutoZone Park is also being carried on FOX Sports Midwest and MLB.tv as well as KTRS radio and MLB Gameday Audio.
The pitching match up is a good one. It includes Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in his final exhibition start before the 33-year-old's regular season opener. That is set for game four of the schedule against the Pittsburgh Pirates to close out the initial series next Thursday afternoon in St. Louis.
The Memphis rotation was aligned such that Carp's Friday opponent will be the man also selected to be Memphis' opening day starter, P.J. Walters.
The 24-year-old impressed this spring, becoming the last non-roster pitching invitee to be cut from big league camp. The right-hander opened many eyes, including Carpenter's. P.J. greatly appreciated Carp's gesture to stop by his locker and offer encouragement as he was packing up to leave the MLB clubhouse last week.
In a projected Memphis rotation that includes five legitimate prospects, Walters, Mitchell Boggs, Jess Todd, Blake Hawksworth and Clayton Mortensen, the dual honor being given to P.J. is most significant for both the player and the organization.
Of the five, only Boggs and Hawksworth are on the 40-man roster, but at its current level of 34 players, there will be room for more additions if needed beyond the first-timers projected to make the MLB roster such as 2008 Redbirds Colby Rasmus and David Freese. Boggs is the only Memphis starter with previous major league experience, having made his debut last season.
While pitching in winter ball in Puerto Rico, Walters impressed his skipper, who also happened to be Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo. P.J. reported to spring training camp ready to go and allowed just one earned run in nine mound innings while with the big club.
How Walters performs on Friday night could be just one more demonstration that he has earned the defacto sixth starter tag if/when a reinforcement is needed for the St. Louis rotation.
While P.J. should receive his chance soon enough, here's hoping it is not at the expense of another Carpenter trip to the disabled list. So far, so good, as Carp has already faced 94 batters this spring, allowing just four earned runs in 23 2/3 innings for a 1.52 ERA.
For those in the Memphis area, what are you waiting for? Ticket sales are said to be lagging, or in other words, good seats remain for what should be a great game! The two play again at AutoZone Park on Saturday afternoon with Joel Pineiro slated to start for the Cardinals.
Update at 8 p.m. Wednesday: Carpenter has been scratched from his Friday start due to a mild left calf injury. It will not affect his regular season start next Thursday, reports MLB.com. Walters will change dugouts and start for St. Louis.
Update at 11 p.m. Wednesday: The Redbirds will make Friday a bullpen game and Mitchell Boggs will oppose Pineiro and the Cardinals on Saturday afternoon.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Catch his Cardinals commentary daily at his blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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