In a bit of a surprise, not because of the moves themselves, but instead their timing, the St. Louis Cardinals re-assigned three players to minor league camp following Sunday’s second consecutive disappointing loss. Outfielder Amaury Marti and left-handed reliever Ron Flores were assigned and infielder Brian Barden was optioned out.
In front of over 11,000 sun-drenched fans at Disney’s Wide World of Sports on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals fell to the Atlanta Braves 12-5. It came on the heels of the 20-6 shellacking administered by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. The club finishes their two-game away series against the Braves on Monday afternoon, a game which will be televised on FOX Sports Midwest at noon Central Daylight Time.
It was thought the Cardinals would wait until their return from Orlando to make the next roster cuts. However, Tony La Russa disclosed the club’s intent following Sunday’s loss, a game in which Flores especially struggled.
These moves represent the third cuts of the spring to date and reduce the number of players in the major league camp to 48 - 37 from the 40-man roster plus 11 non-roster invitees.
Flores (right) pitched the eighth inning against the Braves on Sunday, and couldn’t find the plate. He walked the bases loaded including a wild pitch before a one-out double plated two. Flores issued another free pass to the Braves number seven hitter before a sacrifice fly brought home the third run of the frame.
La Russa wasn’t hard on the pitcher, noting he wasn’t the only one lit up on the day. Yet, as an NRI, Flores’ margin for error was smaller than with proven veterans. “Well, I just told him… Izzy gave up three, Franklin gave up some, but we are going to reassign him… to minor league camp,” La Russa explained.
The 28-year-old had been signed over the winter as a minor league free agent after having pitched for the Oakland A’s and their Triple-A Sacramento club last season.
What started as a well-stocked race, with four lefties coming into camp competing for two specialist roles, has tightened up to the point the club is now dangerously thin from the left side. They are down to two healthy lefties – incumbent Randy Flores and NRI Ron Villone. The latter was also in the mix for a long relief role, but that seems completely out of the question now.
In 1 2/3 innings on Saturday with a 20 MPH wind blowing out to right, Villone yielded two hits and two walks but also had no help from his defense. All four runs that scored against him were unearned. His spring ERA remains 0.00 in just two outings covering 2 2/3 frames.
With Tyler Johnson battling a shoulder problem and not expected to be ready to begin the regular season, Villone seems to be in the driver’s seat to come north with the big club – unless he pitches his way off the team over the next three weeks, that is.
Marti, the intriguing Cuban émigré of questionable age, has played in such diverse locations as Nicaragua and Mexico in the last year. Yet, the likely 33-year-old (the player and his organization assert he is 29) has yet to compete above the Double-A level in the US. La Russa wants him to do just that, though he admits Marti may make a token appearance or two with the big club over the next three weeks.
“If you’re a non-roster guy, you can show up at times, but what he needs to do is go down to that Triple-A club and have a big, productive year so he can get to the big leagues. There is a chance he could be in our uniform before the end of spring training. But, it is more important for him to go down there and do well.
“Same for (Brian) Barden,” said the skipper. Notably, the infielder claimed from the Arizona Diamondbacks last August represents the first member of the Cardinals 40-man roster to be optioned to the minor leagues this spring.
I asked Tony if Barden, who turns 27 years of age next month, would concentrate on a particular position in minor league camp, such as shortstop. La Russa would not commit. “He can play all three (positions – second base, shortstop and third base). He has a real good arm. (He will play) wherever they need him,” the manager said.
For the spring, Barden hit .200 (2-for-10, both singles). On Sunday, the right-handed hitter took a called strike three with two runners in scoring position with one out in the Cardinals seventh. At that point, they had just scored three, cutting Atlanta’s deficit to three runs. Barden’s at-bat was a crucial rally-killer. While “only” a spring game, these kinds of plays are surely noted.
Barden’s assignment to the minors removes one combatant from a race that includes Brendan Ryan, Joe Mather and NRI D’Angelo Jimenez, to potentially fill the role vacated by utilityman Scott Spiezio. Despite having a guaranteed contract for 2008, the popular ex-Cardinal was released by the club on February 27 due to repeated issues related to substance abuse.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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