For the third consecutive year, the St. Louis Cardinals lost an ace as spring training camp opened in 2013. For the second straight spring, it was Chris Carpenter. This time, the veteran right-hander could not bounce back from continued nerve-related weakness and swelling in his neck, shoulder, arm and hand and retired after the season.
Before March was out, closer Jason Motte was sidelined, too. Like Carpenter, it was not immediately clear if his injury would be season-ending.
Looking back, it was amazing the club could regroup from such adversity and come to within two victories of a World Championship seven months later.
Despite the club having considerable pitching depth coming into 2014 camp, I imagine everyone would hope the Cardinals can avoid such a fate this spring. Still, on the eve of pitchers and catchers reporting, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how the Cardinals’ spring training 2013 unfolded.
The Cardinals reported to camp after considerably fewer personnel moves than the year before. Manager Mike Matheny, back for a second season, welcomed most of the same players who took the 2012 club to within one win of making a return to the World Series.
While there were changes, there was nothing of the magnitude of the losses of Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols from the previous winter. This time, hitting coach Mark McGwire and second baseman-outfielder Skip Schumaker went to the Dodgers, reliever Kyle McClellan was released and first baseman Lance Berkman and rotation stalwart Kyle Lohse departed as free agents.
During the off-season, the Cardinals had made a strong play for then-free agent infielder Marco Scutaro, but instead settled for former Cub and Pirate Ronny Cedeno, who was released during spring training. Veteran Ty Wigginton was signed to a two-year deal to provide a late-game right-handed bat off the bench, but did not make it to the All-Star break. The left side of the bullpen was strengthened with the addition of veteran Randy Choate, given a three-year commitment.
On the field, the club played ok in Florida, winning 16, losing 15 and tying one. It was (barely) the club’s ninth winning spring in the last 10 years. The only exception was 2006, and that season ended up well, anyway.
World Baseball Classic
Carlos Beltran suffered a toe injury early in camp that restricted him to hitting only in the World Baseball Classic. Other participants included Mitchell Boggs (USA), Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico) and Fernando Salas (Mexico). The group was out of Cardinals camp for two-to-three weeks in early March.
For the second consecutive spring, the staff had the NL’s best ERA, this time at 4.20.
Adam Wainwright’s spring ERA was 3.00. Veterans Jake Westbrook (4.50) and Lance Lynn (4.94), were neither dominating nor concerning. Jaime Garcia paced the rotation at 2.94 and also led the club with 24 strikeouts (in a team-high 29 innings).
Shelby Miller (3.94 ERA) edged out Joe Kelly (4.91) for the rotation spot vacated by Lohse after Trevor Rosenthal was eliminated from the race early and assigned to the pen.
|Robinson: Florida MVP|
The offense was in the middle of the spring National League pack, batting .280. .300 hitters included Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Pete Kozma, Shane Robinson and Molina, the latter with a team-leading .458 average in limited action (10 games).
In a reminder to not get too excited over spring stats, the club’s RBI leaders were Matt Adams (17), Kozma (15) and Robinson (14). The trio also tied for the team lead in home runs with three each. Robinson had nine doubles, ahead of Jay and Carpenter with seven each.
The middle infield was the primary unsettled area coming into camp. Coming off his eye-opening September of 2012, Pete Kozma continued to play well in the spring and took the everyday shortstop job. His Florida line was an impressive .359/.406/.578.
The other position player starting job opening was at second base. It did not take long for Matt Carpenter to show he could handle it defensively and hit well, too. His Grapefruit League line was .304/.402/.435.
|Garcia appeared healthy|
Along with Chris Carpenter, two other veterans reported to camp with injury concerns hanging over their heads. Garcia had missed 2 ½ months and most of the 2012 playoffs with shoulder problems while shortstop Rafael Furcal played his last game in August with a sore elbow. Over the winter, both players tried the rehab route instead of surgery. Neither worked, though Garcia bought himself more time.
In spring, the two took very different paths. As noted above, Garcia pitched well from the start, but Furcal went under the knife in March with Tommy John surgery after being unable to throw.
What may have been the biggest injury was suffered by Jason Motte on March 22. The closer began the season on the disabled list, hoping rest would help him avoid season-ending Tommy John surgery. Again, the time off would prove to only delay the inevitable. Motte went on to join Carpenter and Furcal in missing the entire season.
David Freese also opened the season on the disabled list due to a back injury. While the third baseman returned a week into the season, he struggled for the first two months at the plate and seemed sluggish at times defensively as well.
Among those fighting for jobs who earned their way onto the 25-man roster were “Grapefruit League MVP” Shane Robinson (second in the NL in runs, batting average, OBP and SLG) and Matt Adams (tied for third in the NL with 17 RBI).
Wigginton did not hit, but his contract assured him of a job to start the season. Veteran Tony Cruz returned as Molina’s back up.
Prized youngsters Oscar Taveras (.289 average, two home runs, 10 RBI) and Michael Wacha (no earned runs allowed and 15 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings) impressed during camp. Neither was ready for the bigs yet, however, nor were there roster spots for them.
|Boggs seemed poised for a big year|
Effective relievers - with ERAs below 2.00 in low numbers of innings pitched - included Boggs, Salas, Michael Blazek, Maikel Cleto and Eric Fornataro. None ended up making a regular season impact. In fact, three of the relievers that made the opening day roster were gone before the season was out – Boggs, Salas and Mark Rzepczynski. During the season, Blazek was traded away and Cleto was lost via waivers.
Veterans Choate and Edward Mujica opened their first full seasons as Cardinals. The closer’s job was Boggs’ as he collected three of the team’s five spring saves. As we now know, that did not last long.
All 25 players to make the Cardinals’ initial roster had some prior MLB experience.
Due to Freese’s injury, Ryan Jackson made his first opening day roster. So did Kozma and Adams, but unlike Jackson, the two remained on the big-league roster all season long.
On the pitching side, Kelly, Rosenthal and Miller participated in their first opening day motorcade at Busch Stadium and remained with St. Louis for the entire season.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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