By Rob Rains
When the Cardinals gather for their first official workout of summer camp on Friday at Busch Stadium, it will have been 113 days since they finished a game in Jupiter, Fla., and found out the coronavirus pandemic was shutting down baseball.
A lot has changed since March 12, and in preparation for the start of the new camp and the delayed opening of the now 60-game 2020 season, John Mozeliak and Mike Shildt took turns answering questions from the media via a zoom call on Wednesday.
“We’re off to a good start in the transition, not only in the planning but in players showing up and getting acclimated,” said Shildt, the Cardinals manager. “Everybody’s got their head in a good place; open-minded. … The common bond of this thing is excitement. Everybody is just excited to be able to have baseball conversation.”
Even as the camp is on the horizon, there are still more unknowns than knowns about what is going to happen.
“This is Darwinism,” Shildt said. “There’s just a lot going on … there’s more hurdles, there’s more dynamics, more things that are required of people’s energies and mindsets … the ability to work through all the different obstacles, which we see as challenges.”
Added Mozeliak, “It feels like we’re reinventing things.”
Some news and notes that came out of the zoom sessions:
* No Cardinals players have decided to opt-out and not play this season, according to Mozeliak, the president of baseball operations. The team is still waiting on some of their Latin players to arrive in St. Louis but all are reportedly en route.
“I’ve communicated with every player in some form or fashion and every player is excited to get going,” Shildt said.
* Jordan Hicks is in town and will be participating in the camp but Shildt said he will not open the season on the roster even with it being expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks of the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Shildt, pitching coach Mike Maddux, head trainer Adam Olsen and Hicks met on Wednesday to discuss the plan for his schedule.
“We’ve got his plan mapped out,” Shildt said. “Like any rehab plan it’s flexible. It’s not overly conservative but there is some patience involved in the plan. Jordan has not had any substantial setbacks. I’m super proud of the way he’s gone about it. He had a side yesterday and is playing catch today.
“He will not be available to start the season with us on the roster. He still appropriately has his rehab program to take place with live batting practice and simulated games.”
The team’s expectations is that Hicks will pitch for the Cardinals at some point this season.
“I don’t want to throw out a date for him for a lot of reasons,” Shildt said. “He’s on a good trajectory to get back.”
As a Type A diabetic, Hicks did have the option to opt out and not play and still be paid and credited with service time.
* Both Mozeliak and Shildt plan to speak to the players on Friday about the expectations of following the health and safety protocols established by MLB while the team is both at home and on the road.
“We will reinforce what their responsibility is to this team and to their peers,” Mozeliak said. “We can only do so much in terms of controlling the environment here at Busch. When you leave here, that’s on you. If we want this season to happen, and it’s not just the St. Louis Cardinals it’s all 29 other organizations, we are all going to have to understand that this is different.
“How you conduct your life outside of Busch Stadium is going to be critical to the success of Major League Baseball let alone the Cardinals.”
Mozeliak admitted that worrying about what potentially could happen has kept him awake at night.
“Part of that is that you’re not immune to reading how many COVID cases are going up in the United States,” he said. “This is a very real virus. I don’t want to downplay it in any way. I want our players and staff to really take responsibility.”
Mozeliak said the team will not be releasing information about whether a player or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 because that will be treated differently than a baseball injury. He did confirm there has been one positive test among personnel screened so far in advance of camp but would not release further information.
“We’re going to try to be as transparent as possible wherever we can,” Mozeliak said. “We have to be beholden to the HIPAA laws.”
* Mozeliak said his expectation is that the schedule will be released early next week and that the season will begin on July 24. There was an unconfirmed report out of Chicago on Wednesday that MLB is still hopeful of playing the scheduled game at the Field of Dreams in Iowa but that the Cardinals potentially could replace the Yankees as the opponent for the Chicago White Sox in that game, which had been scheduled for Aug. 13. Another unconfirmed report on Wednesday said the Cardinals will open the season at home against the Pirates.
*The workouts beginning Friday will be staggered but will include live batting practice. Each pitcher will have at least one live BP session before the team begins playing intrasquad games, the first of which is scheduled for July 8.
* The Cardinals expect to begin the season with a normal five-man rotation, and Carlos Martinez is the favorite to win that final spot in the rotation, depending on what happens over the next three weeks.
“The good news is that we’ve got Miles (Mikolas) back; it looks like he recovered well,” Shildt said. “We’ll just evaluate where guys are and make sure guys are getting ramped up. Carlos had a really good spring and he will get every opportunity to start.”
Mozeliak said the team will go into camp not having as much information on players who have spent the last three months in the Dominican Republic as opposed to those who were either in St. Louis or working out in Jupiter.
“We need to see where Carlos is,” Mozeliak said. “There are some question marks as we go into this. We still believe he is very eager to be a part of that rotation.”
* One of the reasons Mozeliak said the team did not go ahead and announce their full 60-player pool for this season, split between the camp in St. Louis and the satellite camp in Springfield, is that the team first wants to be sure how many players are cleared physically to play, with the possibility they can make the Springfield camp more prospect-based. That camp is scheduled to open on July 14.
It’s possible that “some” of the players selected in this year’s draft could join that camp, Mozeliak said.
“I am open to putting some of the players we recently drafted in the camp if we get to the point where I feel we have enough depth that we would never have to call their name,” he said.
*One prospect, third baseman Elehuris Montero, will be added to the St. Louis camp, Mozeliak said, bringing the initial number of players in the camp to 45.
* The team will make good use of the Busch Stadium facilities to spread players out as much as possible during the camp, Mozeliak said, using both the home and visiting locker rooms, both dugouts, both bullpens and both home and visiting weight rooms. The reception area outside the Cardinals clubhouse will be turned into a doctor’s office.
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports