Postcard from Cardinals camp for Sunday, March 3

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Sunday, March 3

Weather: 84 degrees, sunny

Result: Mets 10, Cardinals 8

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – After getting his third hit of the spring, and his third home run, Tyler O’Neill made a prediction on Sunday.

“We’ll try to mix in a single here and there,” O’Neill said. “Today I thought I hit it off the wall and it just ended up carrying out.”

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt isn’t worried about that – as long as O’Neill continues to hit home runs.

“That was fun,” Shildt said.

O’Neill has spent the spring working with new hitting coach Jeff Albert, trying to improve his pitch recognition and his plate discipline. In addition to his home run on Sunday, he walked once and struck out once. He has walked four times and struck out five times in 19 plate appearances so far this spring.

”It’s locking in mentally and being sure I’m picking up the release point, picking up the spin as early as I can,” O’Neill said. “Being early Is better than being late, that’s how I gauge myself and I’m doing a good job so far.

“Spring is really tough to gauge how you are doing; obviously I am having a little success here in the early going. There’s a lot of baseball to be played.”

If O’Neill continues to hit for power and can cut down on his strikeout total – and mix in a few singles – he could force Shildt and the Cardinals into a tough decision when it comes time to set the opening day roster.

“I’m not the one who has to make the decision, I’m the one who gets to sway them,” O’Neill said. “I’m just going to keep playing and let the rest of it take care of itself.”

Said Shildt, “We know there’s competition and we welcome it.”

Here’s how Sunday’s game broke down:

High: Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, a two-time national champion, addressed the team as the latest guest speaker Shildt has invited to camp.

Low: Giovanny Gallegos allowed two home runs in the seventh inning which turned a 6-5 Cardinals lead into a 9-6 deficit en route to the loss.

At the plate: Matt Carpenter also homered, his second of the spring, before O’Neill’s homer in the fifth. Both were two-run homers … The two have combined to hit five of the eight Cardinals homers this spring, with the other three coming from players who likely will not make the team: Ramon Urias, Max Schrock and Scott Hurst … Hurst, brought over again from the minor-league camp, had one of two Cardinals’ triples, along with Edmundo Sosa … Jedd Gyorko got the start at second base and had two hits and an RBI … The Cardinals had only two hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

On the mound: The only one of the five pitchers for the Cardinals who did not allow a run was the final one, Tyler Webb, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning … Starter Daniel Ponce de Leon was charged with three runs in his three innings of work and Dakota  Hudson gave up four hits and two runs in 1 2/3 innings.

Off the field: In addition to Swinney, another special visitor to the Cardinals camp was Hall of Famer Lou Brock … Yairo Munoz said Sunday he thought he had suffered a broken left wrist on Saturday when he was hit by a pitch, and was relieved when the X-rays turned out to be negative. He expects to miss only a couple of days … Also at the ballpark on Sunday was former Cardinal infielder Tyler Greene, who has begun working as a pro scout for the Yankees.

Up next: The Cardinals will play their next three games on the road on the west side of Florida, beginning Monday against the Tigers in Lakeland. Adam Wainwright will get the start, and Matt Wieters is expected to make his first start behind the plate.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

From earlier this week:

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Saturday, March 2

Weather: 82 degrees, sunny

Result: Cardinals 4, Marlins 3

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – It was a good day to be a Cardinals’ catcher on Saturday.

In a squad game in the morning, Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters both hit home runs, and then in the game against the Marlins, Francisco Pena and Jeremy Martinez took over.

Pena, in a competition with Wieters to be Molina’s backup, went 2-of-3 with an RBI and also threw out a runner trying to steal second. His replacement in the game, Martinez, came through with a two-run double in the eighth inning that drove in the tying and go-ahead runs.

Martinez appears likely to be the primary catcher at Springfield this season.

Here is how the game broke down:

High: Michael Wacha did not allow a hit in his three scoreless innings, walking one and striking out four, in his second start of the spring.

Low: Yairo Munoz had to come out of the game after being hit by a pitch on his left wrist by former Cardinal prospect Zac Gallen. Initial X-rays of his wrist and hand were negative, the team said.

At the plate: Dexter Fowler had his first hit of the spring and Paul Goldschmidt reached base three times on a single and two walks … Outfield prospect Randy Arozarena continued his strong spring with two hits, including a triple, and two runs scored as he raised his average to .417 … The Cardinals were just 2-of-11 with runners in scoring position … After striking out just twice in his first 12 at-bats of the spring, Drew Robinson fanned three times and was 0-of-4 in the game, which he started at shortstop. In his first six games, Robinson has started at center field, second base, DH and shortstop and also has played third.

On the mound: Wacha was more pleased with his secondary pitches, saying he still needs to work on his fastball command. “Everything works off that pitch,” he said … Chasen Shreve worked a perfect inning while Dominic Leone was able to pitch around two hits and a walk and keep the Marlins from scoring … Two of the Marlins runs came against Tommy Layne, who gave up two hits and walked two … Prospect Jake Woodford worked the final two innings, allowing one unearned run.

Off the field: Kolten Wong also got several at-bats in the squad game, saying he wanted the extra work … Alex Reyes is expected to make his first appearance in a spring game on Tuesday in Clearwater against the Phillies, coming in as a reliever behind Jack Flaherty.

Up next: The Cardinals will host the Mets on Sunday, with Daniel Ponce de Leon, a longshot candidate to make the starting rotation, getting his first start of the spring.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Friday, March 1

Weather: 76 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Cardinals 4, Astros 4 (tie, game called after nine innings)

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – One of the most intriguing battles in the Cardinals’ camp, created by the injury to Carlos Martinez’s right shoulder, is who will emerge as the choice to fill that spot in the starting rotation when the regular season begins.

Two of the five candidates were in action on Friday, one on a back field at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium and one in a night game against the Astros in West Palm Beach.

In Jupiter, Alex Reyes was impressive again in what likely will be his last live batting practice session before pitching in a spring training game. Manager Mike Shildt said that appearance will most likely come in the middle of next week, perhaps as a starter.

“His secondary pitches were special,” Shildt said of Reyes, who threw to the team’s new catcher, Matt Wieters. “I’m thrilled, and it’s not even close to what Alex is feeling. I’m so excited that he’s ready to compete.”

Reyes is still considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball despite having only pitched four major-league innings the last two years because of injuries. One of the questions the Cardinals will have to answer is what role they want him to fill this season, aware that he likely will be on a limit for the number of innings they want him to pitch.

Another candidate for that spot, John Gant, who spent part of last season in the rotation, made his first start and second appearance of the spring against the Astros. He worked three innings, allowing one run on four hits. He struck out one and didn’t walk a batter.

Like Reyes, Gant has a personal situation which also will become a factor in his candidacy for the starting role. He is one of three pitchers in camp who is out of options, meaning the Cardinals cannot send him down to Memphis unless he clears waivers, which likely would not happen. Relievers Chasen Shreve and Mike Mayers are the other pitchers in camp who are out of options.

Also in the running for the open spot are Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon.

Here is how Friday night’s game broke down:

High: Scott Hurst, one of the minor league players in the Cardinals’ early spring training program, joined the team for the game and homered in the eighth inning to tie the game. Hurst was the team’s top pick (in the third round) in the 2017 draft.

Low: Andrew Miller had a rocky debut, retiring only two of the six hitters he faced. He allowed two hits, walked one, hit a batter and was charged with three runs. He left with the bases loaded, and two of those runners later scored.

At the plate: The Cardinals also got a solo home run from Tyler O’Neill, his second of the spring … Paul DeJong had a double in three at-bats … The other RBIs came on singles from Rangel Ravelo and Joe Hudson.

On the mound: Prospects Connor Jones and Ryan Helsley each turned in a scoreless inning of relief, as did left-hander Tyler Webb … One of Miller’s two batters that he retired was Carlos Correa, who struck out with the bases loaded.

Off the field: The Cardinals will play a “squad” game on Saturday morning to get some of the pitchers work who have not gotten into many games and some extra at-bats for hitters. It is probable that Yadier Molina will be one of the hitters.

Up next: Michael Wacha will get the start on Saturday when the Cardinals host their stadium partners, the Marlins.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Thursday, Feb. 28

Weather: 78 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Mets 3, Cardinals 2

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – With exactly one month to go before the start of the regular season, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt is more than pleased with the progress his team has made so far this spring.

“I love where we are,” Shildt said. “Very excited about where we’re at, where the guys are. I had pretty high expectations, but we’re ahead of where I would like to be at this point in the camp.”

Shildt used the term “nuances” about what he has liked best thus far.

“Communication, we use spring to put things in, nail things down, biggest thing is you want progressive ownership of what guys are doing individually, collectively, and we’re seeing it,” Shildt said.

“Seeing guys working toward a concept or getting something down or getting through some of the things we’re implementing. We’re seeing some of the things we’re working on prior to games fundamentally and guys are getting accustomed to, thinking about working ahead of the curve. There’s still work to do.”

Asked if there was one aspect of the team’s performance that he was not pleased with, which was an issue again on Thursday, was the pitchers issuing too many walks.

In their first six games, pitchers have issued 34 walks.

“Not alarming, but you don’t want to ignore it,” Shildt said. “There are components to this game if you simplify it, throwing strikes, making plays, executing your offense and if you do that you’re going to win baseball games. The reason we haven’t had at least one more run than them is there’s been a lot of free passes. I know guys are working on things. I’m not concerned about it moving forward.”

The regular season opens March 28 in Milwaukee.

Here is how the game against the Mets broke down:

High: Matt Carpenter got his first two hits of the spring, including his first home run, which came leading off the bottom of the first inning.

Low: Of the Mets three runs, two scored after the runner reached base on walks to open the fifth inning, off Jack Flaherty, and in the seventh, off Mike Mayers.

At the plate: Dexter Fowler was 0-of-3 and is now hitless in seven at-bats this spring, but Shildt thought his timing was the best it has been so far in the spring. “Encouraging where Dex is going,” Shildt said … The Cardinals’ scored their other run in the eighth on doubles by Dylan Carlson and Edmundo Sosa … Tommy Edman got in the game as a pinch-hitter, making him the only Cardinal to play in the first six games … Drew Robinson, trying to make the team as a backup infielder, had another hit and has a .417 average through the first week of games.

On the mound: Miles Mikolas and Flaherty each worked three innings. Mikolas gave up five hits but managed to keep the Mets scoreless … Flaherty had five strikeouts, but the leadoff walk and a hit batter helped the Mets score twice … Jordan Hicks made his first appearance of the spring. He hit 102 mph twice on the radar gun and struck out the side in the eighth, when his best pitch might have been an 86 mph slider. He did walk one and hit a batter.

Off the field: Matt Wieters was in uniform on Thursday, and said there was a simple reason why he signed with the Cardinals. It was the only contract offer the free agent catcher received, coming on Feb. 25. “I felt like it was about time to get out and get playing,” he said. “There wasn’t much of a free agent market; lot of time sitting around waiting.” Wieters, 32, said this will be the first spring he has to compete for a job since 2009. He has been working out with the team from his alma mater, Georgia Tech, where former Cardinals’ first round pick James Ramsey is an assistant coach. “At this point in my career being with a contender was important to me, and it’s not often when you’ve got 10 years in that you can come learn from a guy (Yadier Molina) who’s got almost 20. I will soak in as much as I can from Yadi and definitely lean on him.” Wieters can get out of his minor-league contract at the end of spring training if he doesn’t make the opening day roster. … Alex Reyes will pitch another live batting practice on Friday and then be scheduled to make his first appearance in a game sometime next week, Shildt said … Outfielder Lane Thomas, who has missed the last four games because of a rib cage issue, likely will be sidelined for a couple more days, according to Shildt … Former Cardinal Rafael Furcal was a guest at the camp on Thursday and spent a few minutes speaking to the team.

Up next: The Cardinals will play their first night game of the spring on Friday, against the Astros in West Palm Beach. John Gant will make his first start and second appearance as the competition for the open spot in the starting rotation continues. Andrew Miller also is set to make his Cardinals’ debut.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Wednesday, Feb. 27

Weather: 81 degrees, cloudy

Result: Braves 4, Cardinals 0

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – The competition to see who will be the backup catcher to Yadier Molina is about to heat up in the Cardinals’ camp.

The Cardinals made the signing of free agent Matt Wieters official on Wednesday, pending his passing a physical which was expected later in the evening.

If no issues arise in that exam, Wieters is expected to be on the field on Thursday, where he becomes a candidate for the backup job, competing mostly with Francisco Pena.

Wieters, 32, will be in camp on a non-roster basis after agreeing to a minor-league contract.

“We’ll see where are in a few weeks,” said general manager Michael Girsch.

The backup catcher job with the Cardinals is not considered one of most attractive in baseball because of Molina’s fondness for playing almost every game, which made the decision by Wieters, a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner, somewhat of a surprising move.

“In general we’ve been able to sign guys who are in their mid 30s, who are looking more at playoff contention rather than the followup contract and I think it helps when a guy has done pretty well in his career financially and is focused on some other things,” Girsch said.

“I think the fact that there are games going on and a player still hasn’t signed changes what the expectations are. When guys are still at home I think they start reassessing their ask.”

The Cardinals said there was no connection between signing Wieters and any concerns about Molina’s health.

“Yadi’s having a great camp and the best part of his camp is that he’s not getting overused,” said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations.

The fact Wieters is a switch-hitter, giving the Cardinals the option of having a left-handed hitting catcher, was one of the factors in deciding to sign Wieters, Girsch said.

Wieters played for the Washington Nationals the last two years after spending eight years with the Orioles. During his 2017 season, pitching coach Mike Maddux also was with the Nationals.

“I don’t think we are probably talking a minor-league deal a month ago or two months ago,” Mozeliak said. “Trying to always keep that opportunistic approach when you’re thinking about roster and team, and here we are.

“Pena is here, guys will be competing, and that’s a good thing. Ultimately we’ll see how this plays out. We have three weeks to let it work its way out.”

Manager Mike Shildt said he had a conversation on Tuesday about Wieters’ signing with Pena, who had been expected to fill the same role he filled last season. The only other catcher in camp with major-league experience is Joe Hudson, with the expectation that he would be the backup in Memphis to prospect Andrew Knizner.

“This game is about competition and we feel good about Frankie and the other guys in camp but it comes down to depth and competition,” Shildt said. “We’re always looking to create the opportunity for our best club.”

Here is how the game against the Braves broke down:

High: Two candidates for the starting rotation, Dakota Hudson and Austin Gomber, each worked two scoreless innings in their first appearances of the spring.

Low: Non-roster pitcher Seth Elledge allowed all four of the Braves runs in the eighth inning, allowing two hits and two walks, and being unable to pitch around an error by Edmundo Sosa.

At the plate: The Cardinals were held to just four hits, two by Yairo Munoz, including a double … One of the hits was a single by Kolten Wong, ending an 0-for-7 start to the spring by the team’s starting leadoff hitters … Tyler O’Neill was 0-for-3 and struck out twice … Wong stole his first base of the spring while Munoz was thrown out trying to steal … Outfielder Connor Capel was brought over from the minor-league camp and played left field, walking in his only trip to the plate.

On the mound: Hudson allowed one hit and struck out one in his two innings while Gomber walked one and struck out two in his two innings … The Cardinals also got scoreless innings from Brett Cecil, John Brebbia, Tyler Webb and Giovanny Gallegos, who struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth.

Off the field: Daniel Ponce de Leon threw a live batting practice session, giving him a chance to work on his curve ball … Shildt said Alex Reyes will throw one more live BP before he will make his first appearance in a game … Former Cardinal Rick Ankiel has begun playing catch, the next step is attempted comeback as a reliever following elbow surgery in October. He has said he hopes to be ready to pitch competitively by June.

Up next: Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty are scheduled to make their second appearances of the spring on Thursday, when the Cardinals host the New York Mets. Jordan Hicks also is set to pitch in the game.

Fostcard from Cardinals camp for Tuesday, Feb. 26

Weather: 77 degrees, cloudy

Result: Cardinals 6, Nationals 1

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – As Carlos Martinez took a step backward on Tuesday in his goal of securing a spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation to begin the season, Adam Wainwright was taking a step forward.

Manager Mike Shildt said Martinez, who already was in the middle of two weeks of not pitching because of a weakened shoulder, will miss at least one more week while he works to strengthen the shoulder.

Martinez obtained a second medical opinion on Monday which confirmed the diagnosis of the Cardinals’ doctors and also had an injection in his shoulder, Shildt said. Martinez had his right arm in a sling on Tuesday, but that was only because of the PRP (platelet-rich-plasma) injection, Shildt said.

It likely now will be the middle of March before Martinez can begin throwing, which all but officially rules him of being in the rotation to start the season. There would still be enough time in the spring, barring any more setbacks, for Martinez to be ready to pitch out of the bullpen.

“Good news the second opinion validated the first opinion,” Shildt said. “He will rehab for two weeks and we’ll evaluate from there.”

Even before Wainwright made his first start of the spring on Tuesday against the Nationals in West Palm Beach, Shildt projected he will be in the rotation when the season begins.

“We feel good about what he’s doing,” Shildt said. “He’s Adam Wainwright. Lot of factors, all pointing to him being in the rotation.”

Wainwright then went out and retired all six batters he faced in the game, recording one strikeout.

Without Martinez, there is one open spot in the rotation which will be at stake the rest of the spring. The four most likely candidates to win the job are Alex Reyes, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and John Gant.

Here is how Tuesday’s game broke down:

High: Outfield prospect Randy Arozarena went 3-for-3, drove in two runs, scored once and stole a base.

Low: The news that Martinez will now have to wait an additional week before he is able to resume a throwing program.

At the plate: The eighth and ninth place hitters in the Cardinals lineup, Arozarena and Francisco Pena, combined for five of the team’s eight hits and four of their six RBIs … Paul Goldschmidt got his first hit of the spring, a double, and scored a run … Rangel Ravelo and Drew Robinson had the other RBIs, both on sacrifice flies … Minor-leaguer Evan Mendoza, brought along on the trip, had a triple in three at-bats.

On the mound: Eight pitchers combined to allow the Nationals only five hits … Chasen Shreve allowed their only run … Tommy Layne worked his second scoreless inning of the spring, allowing one hit and striking out two … Ryan Helsley had another scoreless inning, pitching around a pair of walks, and Dominic Leone pitched a scoreless ninth in his spring debut.

Off the field: Another member of the rotation who had a good day was Miles Mikolas,who agreed to a four-year extension running from 2020-2023. The deal is reportedly worth $68 million. Mikolas could have been a free agent after this season … Shildt said Reyes is getting close to being able to pitch in a spring training game, with his first appearance likely to come out of the bullpen.

Up next: Hudson will get the start on Wednesday as the Cardinals host the Atlanta Braves with Gomber also scheduled to make his first appearance of the spring.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Monday, Feb. 25

Weather: 79 degrees, overcast

Result: Cardinals 3, Tigers 3 (tie, game called after 9th inning)

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – The best part of Mike Shildt’s day on Monday was over about 4 ½ hours before the Cardinals game against the Detroit Tigers began.

That came when Shildt watched from the outfield on field 1 of the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex as Andrew Miller, Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes threw live batting practice sessions against some of the non-roster catchers in camp.

After watching Reyes in particular, Shildt said he was “cackling” about the pitches he observed.

“Three pretty impressive live BPs,” Shildt said. “The guy who was really impressive was Alex Reyes. Aggressive, assertive, the curve ball was dirty. The ball was coming out really clean on his heater, so a really positive day for each guy, and us.

“I was just cackling to myself in the outfield on some of the pitches that were being thrown, just dirty pitches – plus, elite pitches. I was just happy.”

Reyes was happy too.

“Everything went well, today was another step in a positive direction,” Reyes said. “I thought I threw a few good breaking balls, a few good changeups. I need to work on attacking the zone with my heater a little more but everything was coming out well. I couldn’t really ask for anything more today.”

This was the first time Reyes has faced hitters who were swinging at his pitches. During his first live BP the hitters were told just to stand in the batter’s box.

“The competitiveness in you comes out, you want to get outs no matter who is hitting,” Reyes said. “Getting to see I can still freeze hitters is a positive thing.”

One of the hitters was Brian O’Keefe, who also has caught some of Reyes’ bullpen sessions this spring.

“He’s got good feel for all of his pitches,” O’Keefe said. “After all that’s happened the last year and a half, two years; that can be tough for a guy. It looks like his pitches have some life to the end of them; really looks good.

“I feel like everywhere now guys throw hard, bullpen guys or starters, that’s just the way the game is going. But certainly with Alex’s stuff there’s a little extra giddy to it. He was impressive.”

What’s next for Reyes?

“Evaluation, then we move forward,” Shildt said.

Reyes is eagerly awaiting the news that he has been scheduled to pitch in a spring training camp inside the main stadium. That has not happened the last three years after he had to sit out the 2016 spring because of a minor league suspension, and then because of injury the last two springs.

“I’m dying to pitch in a spring training game,” he said. “It’s been a few years.”

Here is how the game against the Tigers broke down:

High: The Cardinals rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the ninth inning, with Yairo Munoz delivering a bases loaded sacrifice fly with one out and Tommy Edman drove in the tying run with a single.

Low: Paul DeJong and Marcell Ozuna each were 0-of-2, leaving both still looking for their first hit of the spring.

At the plate: The Cardinals were held to just four singles before the ninth inning rally, which started with a walk and a hit by pitch … Jose Martinez reached base in both of his at-bats with a hit and a walk … The Cardinals’ other run scored in the seventh on an RBI single by Rangel Ravelo … Harrison Bader got the start in the leadoff spot and struck out in both of his at-bats.

On the mound: Prospect Jake Woodford got the start and allowed two runs in his second inning of work … Another prospect, Evan Kruczynski, pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two … Connor Jones and Mike Mayers each worked a perfect inning of relief.

Off the field: Shildt said Yadier Molina is scheduled to catch for the first time this spring on March 14, and likely will be used as a designated hitter in games before that date … Ozuna is expected to play in the field for the first time around that same day, about 10 days before the end of ther spring, but a firm date has not been scheduled … Pitcher Andrew Morales was scheduled to undergo an MRI on his right shoulder on Monday after having to come out of Sunday’s game. Shildt said it appears the non-roster right-hander will be out for “some time” but will know more once the team gets the test results … Dakota Hudson will make his first start of the spring on Wednesday with Austin Gomber set to make his first appearance the same day.

Up next: Adam Wainwright is scheduled to start Tuesday’s game against the Nationals in West Palm Brach although the weather forecast calls for a good chance for rain.

 

About Rob Rains 94 Articles
Rob Rains , who runs STLSportsPage.com was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, St. Louis Media HOF 2018, and is a former National League beat writer for USA Today’s Baseball Weekly. For three years he covered the Cardinals for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat until its demise in the 1980s. Rains was awarded the Freedom Forum Grant to teach Journalism for a year at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. Now based in St. Louis, Rains is often a guest on Frank Cusumano’s Pressbox Show on 590AM and has been writing books, magazine articles, and covers the Cardinals and Blues for STLSportsPage.com. He has written or co-written more than 30 books, most on baseball, including autobiographies or biographies of Ozzie Smith, Jack Buck, and Red Schoendienst. Rains volunteers his time helping run Rainbows for Kids, a 501 (c)(3) charity for families of children with cancer in the Greater St. Louis Area.