Cardinals Major League Notebook: 02/21/10

The battle for the fifth spot in the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals rotation is underway.

INSIDE PITCH

 

   With the Cardinals having established their top four starters -- right-handers Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny -- much attention this spring is centered on who will be the last starter and who will go to the bullpen if he is beaten out for the final spot in the rotation.

 

   Included in the mix for a rotation spot are right-handers Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs and Blake Hawksworth. All of them enjoyed success in the Cardinals bullpen last year -- McClellan was a reliever all season -- and manager Tony La Russa admitted that their good bullpen work weighed heavily in the decision to possibly move them into the rotation.

 

   "If we feel the bullpen needs more help, then the better guy may go to the bullpen," La Russa said. "The bullpen is really important. We're not going to back off the bullpen at all. It's too critical."

 

   The other prime rotation candidates are veteran left-hander Rich Hill, who had some starting success with the Cubs, and promising lefty Jaime Garcia, who pitched effectively at the end of last season in the minors following his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery in 2008. But the 23-year-old Garcia never has pitched 150 innings in a season.

 

   La Russa said he and pitching coach Dave Duncan "haven't had a lot of conversations with people in the organization about it, but (Garcia) is coming off serious surgery and he's a really good-looking prospect. He definitely should be thinking long-term.

 

   "I don't know how much he'll rein himself in. He knows there's a spot there, but he should use really good sense. In fact, he'll be one guy who gets talked to on a personal basis about this."

 

   WHERE: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Fla. The Cardinals have been there since 1998, but there have been changes all around. With the Orioles moving to Sarasota, Fla., and the Dodgers previously going to Arizona, the Cardinals have only the Marlins (who share a complex with the Cardinals in Jupiter) and the Mets as opponents any closer than two hours away.

 

   TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: INF/OF Joe Mather, if his troublesome left hand has healed, could provide depth at several positions. Mather displayed power, speed and defensive ability in 2008 before getting hurt. After briefly holding the Cardinals' third base job last spring, Mather had a lost 2009 season at Class AAA Memphis and Class AA Springfield.

 

   TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP Ryan Franklin had a splendid 2009 season as the Cardinals' closer and made his first All-Star team, but he weakened down the stretch, causing some offseason doubt in his ability to replicate his 38-save season.

 

   AUTHORITY FIGURES: Tony La Russa returns for his 15th season as Cardinals manager, having won 1,232 games in St. Louis and 2,552 games overall, which is third on the all-time list. The 65-year-old La Russa, for the first time with the Cardinals, has only a one-year contract, fueling speculation that this might be his last season on the field. The coaching staff returns intact with the notable exception of former Cardinals star Mark McGwire replacing Hal McRae as the hitting coach.

 

 

NOTES, QUOTES

 

   --Former Gold Glove catcher Mike Matheny, who has been a spring instructor, has been hired as a special assistant for summertime work in several areas. GM John Mozeliak said Matheny would help evaluate players at Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield, assisting Jeff Luhnow, the vice president of scouting and player development. Matheny also would serve as a roving catching instructor and spend a couple of days a month with the major league club, Mozeliak said. Matheny, a St. Louis County resident, has indicated interest in getting back in uniform as a coach or even a manager, but he has said he would have to work things around his family.

 

   "I want to keep my foot in the door," Matheny said. "I want to be productive, but I'd hate to have a regret by jumping in (to a full-time job)."

 

   --Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who helps out in spring training and before games during the season, is beginning his 66th consecutive spring in a big-league uniform. Schoendienst said he signed a contract every year to remain with the organization, even though he probably has a lifetime pass. "I'm not holding out," Schoendienst said. "I'm just trying to hold on."

 

   --INF/OF Joe Mather, who struggled last season at both Class AAA and Class AA after being sent out as the final cut of spring training, said an injured left hand that had bothered him for the last two seasons had healed and he was taking aim at a regular job.

 

   "As far as I'm concerned, nobody's handed the job to anybody at third (base)," he said. "I don't think anyone is outright that much better than I am. I'm pretty confident in my ability there. And there's always a role position that I feel comfortable doing, too."

 

   --OF Nick Stavinoha, who contributed some key hits as an extra man in the middle of last season, reported with the pitchers and catchers and will catch many pitchers' warm-up sessions this spring. Stavinoha, who caught in college, handled one game, a winning effort, at Class AAA last year. He hit .282 for Class AAA Memphis and .230 in 87 at-bats for the Cardinals.

 

   --New hitting coach Mark McGwire said he had been recruited twice before to be a hitting coach, by Seattle and Colorado, but declined both invitations.

 

   --CF Colby Rasmus, ready for his second season, was one of the early arrivals in camp. "I think last year (a first-round playoff loss) left a little sour taste in people's mouths," Rasmus said. "We could have done better than we did."

 

   BY THE NUMBERS: 4,773, 2,552, 2,217 -- Major league games managed, won and lost by Tony La Russa, who is tops in all three categories among living managers.

 

   QUOTE TO NOTE: "Is something taken away because there were substances? Yeah, I'm sure it's not the same. But I still marvel at how he was able to concentrate and pull that off. It was remarkable." -- Manager Tony La Russa, talking about the 1998 season, when Mark McGwire hit a record 70 home runs for the Cardinals but later admitted he was using steroids at the time.

 

 

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).

 

   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

 

   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 Mitchell 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 Tyler Greene or INF Ruben Gotay

   OF Allen Craig

 

   Other than LaRue and Lugo, the bench figures to be inexperienced. Craig, who batted .322 with 26 homers and 83 RBIs at Class AAA Memphis, is the most intriguing of the lot. 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. Switch-hitting Gotay, signed as a minor league free agent, is competing with right-handed-hitting Greene, one of the Cardinals' fastest runners who has some power but was overexposed at bat last season in a couple of brief trials. 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:

 

   --1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) has resumed hitting, and he should be fine for the start of spring training.

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

   --LHP Rich Hill (left shoulder surgery in August 2009) is expected to be ready for spring training.

 

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