Cardinals Major League Notebook: 03/14/10

Left-hander Jaime Garcia continues to impress in St. Louis Cardinals major league camp.

INSIDE PITCH

 

   Jaime Garcia, who pitched just 37 2/3 innings in the minors last year after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, came to camp with an outside shot at a big-league starting job.

 

   However, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan might consider having him open the season in the bullpen, a la right-hander Adam Wainwright, who spent all of 2006 in the bullpen before joining the rotation the next year.

 

   "As long as (Garcia) is in the conversation, it counts," La Russa said. "He's in the conversation."

 

   In his first relief outing of the spring, Garcia walked the first hitter he faced and then set down nine in a row. In his second, on a windy day, Garcia walked three but still was impressive.

 

   "He threw the ball very well again," La Russa said.

 

   "My main goal coming into camp was to be like everybody else, be a normal guy, to do a lot of work and not have any limitations," said Garcia, who had the operation late in the 2008 season. "I'm ready for whatever they have for me."

 

   Duncan said "it would be impossible to ignore" what Garcia had done early in camp.

 

   "You certainly take note of it," Duncan said. "Where does that take you? It's hard to say because it's still early, but he's been impressive."

 

   Garcia has made only one relief appearance in four minor league seasons, although he had nine relief outings for the Cardinals in 2008.

 

   "I've started my whole life," Garcia said. "Obviously, I'd rather start. But if they think they need another lefty in the bullpen and they think I'm the guy, I'll go."

 

   Garcia helped Memphis win the Pacific Coast League championship last summer after returning to action.

 

   "I was real satisfied," Garcia said. "I wasn't even close to where I am right now. I was still at a point where I was having ups and downs and still taking time to recover."

 

   But now Garcia says, "I've never felt this good. I feel I'm where I need to be. My pitches are where they need to be. It's about learning, making adjustments and gaining experience."

 

 

NOTES, QUOTES

 

   --1B Albert Pujols, who sat out for a week due to lower back discomfort, returned to action Saturday. He went 2-for-2 in a Grapefruit League game against the Astros.

 

   --RHP Josh Kinney, who has had arm problems almost constantly since the end of the 2006 World Series, was set back as the medical staff attempted to treat an impingement in his shoulder. Kinney, who got a shot, said, "It's not anything that I'm too worried about." Manager Tony La Russa was concerned, though, about the potential pitching time to be lost by Kinney.

 

   --RHPs Kyle McClellan, Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse, who could represent the Cardinals' Nos. 3 through 5 pitchers behind RHPs Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, strung together 11 consecutive scoreless innings over three starts, with Penny and Lohse tossing four spotless innings apiece. Penny allowed one hit and Lohse two.

 

   --1B/OF Allen Craig, after missing the first six exhibition games with a strained quadriceps, had two doubles and a two-run homer in his first two games and had two other hits taken away by defenders. Craig doesn't really have a best position, but his bat might be enough for him to stick on the 25-man squad.

 

   --SS Brendan Ryan, who had right wrist surgery on Feb. 9, was hopeful of a return to the lineup on or about March 20. That would give him nearly two weeks of action before the start of the regular season.

 

   --OF Nick Stavinoha, battling for a bench job, hit safely in the club's first seven exhibition games, getting seven hits. Stavinoha batted .333 (5-for-15) as a pinch hitter in two trials with the club last year.

 

   BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- Age of RHP Shelby Miller when he pitched a scoreless inning against Washington. Miller was the youngest Cardinals pitcher in an exhibition game since LHP Rick Ankiel was 18 in 1998.

 

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was flashing in my mind that I was living a dream." -- RHP Shelby Miller, the Cardinals' first-round draft pick last year, upon pitching in his first spring game.

 

 

ROSTER REPORT

 

   After winning their first division title in three seasons, the Cardinals really had only one real offseason mission -- to re-sign LF Matt Holliday. This they did at a cost of $120 million for seven years. Their only other player-personnel move of consequence was to sign RHP Brad Penny to replace departed RHP Joel Pineiro in the rotation. They also made one prominent coaching change, hiring former slugger Mark McGwire to replace Hal McRae as the hitting coach.

 

   ARRIVALS: RHP Brad Penny (free agent from Giants), LHP Rich Hill (minor league free agent from Orioles), INF Ruben Gotay (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks), INF Felipe Lopez (free agent from Brewers).

 

   DEPARTURES: RHP Brad Thompson (released, signed minor league deal with Royals), INF Joe Thurston (free agent, signed minor league deal with Braves), 3B Troy Glaus (free agent, signed with Braves), INF Mark DeRosa (free agent, signed with Giants), INF Khalil Greene (free agent, signed with Rangers), OF Rick Ankiel (free agent, signed with Royals), RHP Joel Pineiro (free agent, signed with Angels), RHP Todd Wellemeyer (free agent, signed minor league deal with Giants), RHP John Smoltz (free agent, unsigned).

 

   SPRING FOCUS: Having re-signed LF Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' lineup should be in good shape for another run at the World Series. 3B David Freese, a rookie, is the only real unknown in the equation, and the Cardinals might have to bring in a veteran presence to compete with him. A fifth starter is needed, as well as bench help, specifically from the left side. Much of the focus will be on new hitting coach Mark McGwire as he returns to baseball after eight seasons out of the game and amid commentary about his use of performance-enhancement drugs when he played.

 

   PROJECTED ROTATION:

   1. RHP Chris Carpenter

   2. RHP Adam Wainwright

   3. RHP Kyle Lohse

   4. RHP Brad Penny

   5. LHP Rich Hill or LHP Jaime Garcia or RHP Kyle McClellan

 

   Penny, a free agent acquisition, replaces RHP Joel Pineiro, a 15-game winner who signed with the Angels. RHP Todd Wellemeyer had the most starts from the fifth spot last year, but he wasn't re-signed, so Hill, Garcia and perhaps RHP Kyle McClellan will contend for the fifth spot. No Cardinals lefty started a game last year, as Cy Young Award candidates Carpenter and Wainwright led an often-dominant, all-right-handed rotation.

 

   PROJECTED BULLPEN:

   RHP Ryan Franklin (closer)

   RHP Jason Motte

   RHP Kyle McClellan

   RHP Blake Hawksworth

   RHP Mitch Boggs

   LHP Trever Miller

   LHP Dennys Reyes

 

   Franklin had a stellar, 38-save season in his first full year as the closer, although he was wobbly at the end. The bullpen was one of the strengths of the division-championship club, and it is likely that it will return almost intact this season. McClellan might be moved into the rotation, if the need arises.

 

   PROJECTED LINEUP:

   1. 2B Skip Schumaker

   2. CF Colby Rasmus

   3. 1B Albert Pujols

   4. LF Matt Holliday

   5. RF Ryan Ludwick

   6. C Yadier Molina

   7. 3B David Freese

   8. SS Brendan Ryan

 

   The key lineup question for manager Tony La Russa is the No. 2 spot. Does he go for "damage," as he likes to put it, with CF Colby Rasmus, knowing that Rasmus, one of his best base stealers, isn't apt to run much in front of Pujols? Or does he go at Nos. 1-2 with Schumaker and Ryan, neither of whom hits for much power nor walks much, in front of Pujols and Holliday?

 

   PROJECTED RESERVES:

   C Jason LaRue

   INF Julio Lugo

   INF/OF Joe Mather

   INF Felipe Lopez

   OF Allen Craig

 

   The late-February signing of Lopez added some experience to the bench.

 

   Craig, who batted .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs at Class AAA Memphis, is an intriguing rookie. The 25-year-old was signed as an infielder but has been moved to the outfield, where he is not an accomplished defender. Still, next to the batter's box, the outfield appears to be his best position. Mather, a valuable extra man in 2008, had a terrible season (.176 at Class AAA Memphis and .209 at Class AA Springfield) in 2009 as he had continued trouble with a left hand on which he had surgery in 2008.

 

   TOP ROOKIES: David Freese, who came on strong late last season after recovering from a left ankle injury suffered in a January auto accident, will be given the first shot to win the third base job that belonged mostly to Mark DeRosa in the second half of last season. Freese was 7-for-12 in a late recall from Class AAA Memphis.

 

   LHP Jaime Garcia, a 23-year-old from Mexico, pitched effectively in the last month of the minor league season after recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. He is considered a candidate for the one remaining starting berth, although pitching coach Dave Duncan is hesitant about Garcia being able to pitch that many innings yet. Garcia never has worked more than 150 innings in a season.

 

   RHP Pete Parise had an outstanding Caribbean Series while pitching for Puerto Rico and he has an outside shot at a big-league relief job. Parise had eight saves, most of them late in the season, as he helped pitch Memphis to the Pacific Coast League championship last year.

 

   MEDICAL WATCH:

 

   --SS Brendan Ryan (right wrist surgery in February 2010) hopes to be healthy for the start of the regular season.

 

   --LHP Rich Hill (left shoulder surgery in August 2009) was throwing off a mound early in spring training.

 

   --1B Albert Pujols (lower back discomfort) was sidelined for a week in early March. He returned to action March 13.

 

   --LF Matt Holliday (sore right rib cage) was sidelined for a week in mid-March. He was day-to-day.

 

   --RHP Josh Kinney (right shoulder impingement) was sidelined in mid-March after having two cortisone shots.


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