Postcard from Cardinals camp for Saturday, March 13, 2021

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Saturday, March 13, 2021

Weather: 77 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Cardinals 6, Marlins 4

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Injuries have left a crack in the potential starting rotation for the Cardinals to begin this season, and Daniel Ponce de Leon would like to take advantage of that opening.

With Miles Mikolas already headed for the injured list to start the season, another projected starter, Kwang Hyun Kim, missed his scheduled start on Saturday night, giving Ponce de Leon the chance to make his first start of the spring.

He worked 3 2/3 innings, allowing four hits, and did not allow a run until after he was out of the game. He left with runners on second and third, and a wild pitch allowed the runner on third to score.

Ponce de Leon, who struck out two, threw 68 pitches, 44 of which were strikes.

“I was really encouraged by Ponce’s start tonight,” said manager Mike Shildt. “He was really locked in, a lot of really quality pitches. He did a really good job, not a lot of hard contact at all. He did a better job of controlling counts.

“Really, really encouraging night for Ponce.”

Ponce de Leon started eight games for the Cardinals last season, going 1-3 with a 5.01 ERA but only lasted past the fifth inning twice.

The Cardinals arrived at spring training believing they had four spots set in the rotation with Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Mikolas and Kim. There was supposed to be a competition for the fifth spot, but that died away quickly with Carlos Martinez locking up that spot.

Now, however, the injuries to Mikolas and Kim have left the Cardinals with just three starters set to begin the year – Flaherty, Wainwright and Martinez. John Gant is likely the leading candidate for one of the two remaining spots, with Johan Oviedo and Jake Woodford the other most likely candidates besides Ponce de Leon.

Here is how Saturday night’s game broke down:

High: John Nogowski went 4-of-4 and drove in four runs as he keeps trying to force his way into the conversation for one of the final spots on the Cardinals’ bench.

Low: Kim being scratched with back tightness.

At the plate: Nogowski drove in the first run with a single in the fifth, then added another RBI single in the seventh and drove in two more runs with a single in the ninth. His four-hit night raised his spring average to .353 … Lane Thomas drove in the other run in the seventh with a double … Austin Dean also had two hits, a single and double, and scored twice … Non-roster outfielder Lars Nootbaar broke a 3-3 tie in the ninth with a triple, driving in Scott Hurst, who drew a walk on a 12-pitch at-bat, before scoring on Nogowski’s final hit.

On the mound: After Ponce de Leon left, Matthew Liberatore worked two perfect innings with one strikeout … Zack Thompson had two strikeouts in his first inning of relief, but then walked the bases loaded in the eighth, After he left the game, Seth Elledge allowed a two-run single that tied the game.

Worth noting: Shildt said Kim suffered the back tightness in his most recent bullpen session. It isn’t know when Kim will be ready to pitch again or how long he will be sidelined, although Shildt did acknowledge that the setback could possibly prevent Kim from making his first scheduled start of the regular season three weeks from now. “We’re not going to push it just to push it,” Shildt said. If Kim is out that long, he would join Mikolas as starters the Cardinals were expecting to be in the opening rotation who could begin the year on the injured list … One pitcher coming back from injury, Jordan Hicks, is scheduled to throw one inning on Sunday in his first official spring game. He has pitched one inning in a B game … The Cardinals announced they have signed all of their players with less than three years of service time to contracts for this season … The Cardinals made their first roster cuts of the spring after the game, optioning pitchers Junior Fernandez and Johan Quesada, and re-assigning pitchers Conner Jones, Griffin Roberts, Austin Warner and Garrett Williams; catchers Pedro Pages and Carlos Soto, infielder Luken Baker and Kramer Robertson and outfielders Lars Nootbaar and Justin Toerner to the minor league camp.

Up next:  The Cardinals will play the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Sunday, with Carlos Martinez making his third start of the spring.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

From earlier this week:

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Friday, March 12, 2021

Weather: 76 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Cardinals 4, Astros 3

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Playing left field, Tyler O’Neill had to adjust his eyes on Friday night as the Cardinals played under the lights for the first time this spring at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

While that was true as he played defense, O’Neill had no trouble seeing the ball he hit disappear over the right field wall.

“The lights here obviously are not as good as the big league lights, especially the ones at Busch, but it’s good to get under them and get adjusted that way,” O’Neill said.

One of the changes this spring because of the health and safety protocols has the Cardinals playing eight of their 24 games at night. Friday night’s game was the third of the eight, with the first two coming last week in West Palm Beach.

“To be able to get into night games at spring training is excellent for us,” O’Neill said.

Manager Mike Shildt agreed, remembering previous springs when the Cardinals played no night games – and suddenly found themselves playing one in the first week of the regular season.

“I think there’s some advantages, like anything there are some plusses and minuses,” Shildt said. “I like the fact that it gets us ready for what the season looks like at the beginning of the year. I also appreciate the fact that the first time you are going to play a night game is not in the regular season. It’s just different for a lot of reasons, so from that aspect I do like it.”

Adam Wainwright has seen the same thing happen, and the problems that sometimes come up making the adjustments to playing at night.

“It’s hard to play all 1 o’clockers and for your body to be ready for a 7 p.m. game just out of nowhere,” Wainwright said. “It takes a couple of days usually to get used to that. It’s good to get a couple in at night to be sure.”

Here is how Friday night’s game broke down:

High: O’Neill’s home run was his second of the spring, a two-run shot in the fourth inning. Both of O’Neill’s homers have been opposite-field shots to right field.

Low: Paul DeJong was 0-of-3 and is just 2-of-14, both singles, so far this spring.

At the plate: Yadier Molina hit his first home run of the spring, also a two-run shot … Molina, who caught all nine innings, and O’Neill also each added a single, and O’Neill’s 2-of-3 night raised his spring average to .389 … Matt Carpenter was 0-of-2 with a walk, but both of the outs were on long flys to the outfield. He is now 0-of-15 this spring.

On the mound: Wainwright needed just 41 pitches to work four scoreless innings. He allowed only two baserunners, a one-out double by Jose Altuve in the first and a walk in the third, ahead of a double play. Wainwright, who had three strikeouts, has now allowed only two hits (both by Altuve) and one unearned run in nine innings this spring, covering three appearances … Tyler Webb and Ryan Helsley each allowed a solo home run … Andrew Miller gave up three hits and a run in his one inning of work … Protecting a 4-3 lead in the eighth, Giovanny Gallegos allowed the Astros to load the bases with nobody out but got out of the jam with a strikeout and a double play … Kodi Whitley earned the save, retiring the Astros in order in the ninth.

Worth noting: Miles Mikolas won’t throw again for seven to 10 days as the Cardinals hope the rest will improve the condition of his “creaky” right shoulder. Imaging did not reveal any structural issues, so the Cardinals are hoping that when he throws to hitters again, for the first time since Feb. 25, his shoulder will be improved. There is no timetable on when Mikolas might be able to pitch in a game … Non-roster outfielder Matt Szczur has missed the last week because of a sore quad but Shildt said he should be available to play either Sunday or Monday …. Jordan Hicks is likely to pitch in his next game on either Saturday night or Sunday.

Up next: Kwang  Hyun Kim is the scheduled starter for Saturday night’s game against the Marlins, the Cardinals second consecutive night game.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Weather: 77 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Nationals 3, Cardinals 2

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – It was only 11 pitches, eight of which were strikes, in a B game on a back field – but it might have been the most important 11 pitches thrown by any Cardinals pitcher so far this spring.

The pitches were thrown on Wednesday in West Palm Beach by Jordan Hicks, the first pitches he has thrown to opposing hitters in a game anywhere since June 22, 2019, before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

The game was off-limits to the media because of health and safety protocol reasons, but manager Mike Shildt had a front-row seat as Hicks struck out the first Washington hitter he faced, then retired the next two on groundballs.

“I don’t think it would have mattered what lens you were looking at it from, your vantage point, my vantage point, standing upside down on your head, I don’t know if that would have mattered – it was pretty darn good,” Shildt said. “Three first-pitch strikes, in control of what he was doing, clearly life to his ball. Super encouraging first outing.”

Assuming Hicks recovers as expected on Thursday, his next appearance likely will be in a regular spring training game. Shildt said Hicks is on a trajectory to be on the roster when the regular season begins in three weeks.

Hicks missed the shortened 2020 season after deciding not to pitch because of his status as a Type 1 diabetic, which put him at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus. He spent that year rehabbing, which is never an easy assignment.

“He took advantage, super proud of him, it can’t be said enough,” Shildt said. “He handled it well. He had assistance on the road, but that can be a lonely road. He traveled it as well as anybody, hats off to him. Jordan looks phenomenal.”

While Hicks was away last season, the Cardinals collected 13 saves in their 58 games, split among seven relievers. Andrew Miller and Giovanny Gallegos each had four, and five other pitchers had one apiece.

Shildt stopped short on Wednesday of declaring that Hicks will open the season as the closer, but it doesn’t appear there is any doubt he will be back in that spot before long.

“An analogy on the offensive side, you add a big bat to the lineup and it makes everything around it better,” he said. “You’re talking about a big piece we can count on who has experience in high-leverage situations. It allows more depth to what we’re doing and creates more roles for different people.

“The good news is we’ve got a lot of options and he’s definitely one of them.”

Some pitchers who undergo the elbow surgery come back throwing even harder than they did before the operation. Could that happen with Hicks, who topped the 100 miles per hour mark with almost every fastball he threw?

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Shildt said. “I really hesitate to put velocity targets out there especially with Jordan, for him to think he has to do even more. That would be pretty amazing.

“Right now I really don’t want him thinking about velocity. I want him thinking about what he did today. which was execution of pitches.”

It Hicks is healthy, Shildt knows the velocity will be there.

“I think he’s pretty much cleared, all shapes and forms,” Shildt said. “Clearly we are going to be cautious. We’ve been slow-playing this spring and rightfully so, but he’s checking all the boxes. We will get to the point where thankfully he will just be another guy on the club. … He is totally ready to go, which is encouraging for everybody.”

Hicks was not made available to the media after his outing, but his teammate, Jack Flaherty, was asked what having a healthy Hicks coming out of the bullpen will mean for the Cardinals this season.

“It means a lot of trouble for everybody else,” Flaherty said.

Here is how Wednesday’s regular game against the Nationals broke down:

High: Flaherty had his best start of the spring, working three scoreless innings before giving up a home run in the fourth.

Low: The Cardinals were facing Washington ace and St. Louis native Max Scherzer, who retired all nine of the hitters he faced in three innings, recording five strikeouts. The Cardinals hit just two balls out of the infield off Scherzer.

At the plate: Tommy Edman had two of the Cardinals’ five hits, including a double … Jose Rondon hit his second triple of the spring before he scored on a ground out by John Nogowski … Nolan Arenado drove in the other run with a sacrifice fly … The Cardinals were hitless in three at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

On the mound: Flaherty allowed just one baserunner through the first three innings, on a walk, before giving up a hit and a two-run homer to Starlin Castro in the fourth … Johan Oviedo made his first appearance of the spring in a regular game and allowed one run in two innings … Non-roster righthander Tommy Parsons continued his strong spring with two scoreless innings. He has not allowed a run in 6 1/3 innings, covering four appearances.

Worth noting: Harrison Bader was back in the lineup for the first time since March 2 and was 0-of-3 … John Gant worked four innings as the starter in the B game and appears to be leading the competition for the spot in the rotation to replace Miles Mikolas, who was scheduled to undergo tests on his shoulder and arm on Wednesday. The results of those exams are expected in a couple of days.

Up next: The Cardinals do not have a game on Thursday but will have a “light” workout, according to Shildt. They will host the Astros on Friday night in Jupiter, with Adam Wainwright expected to start the game.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Weather: 71 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Mets 5, Cardinals 3

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Alex Reyes has almost certainly been the best pitcher in the Cardinals camp so far this spring but he won’t be in the starting rotation when the regular season begins.

Manager Mike Shildt said he informed Reyes before Tuesday’s game that he will be working out of the bullpen, more a reflection of all of the injuries he has had in recent years and the shortened 2020 season that has limited him to a total of 87 innings since 2018.

“I was pretty candid with him today that it’s not a decision about whether he should or shouldn’t start based on his ability,” Shildt said. “Clearly all things being equal this would be a guy who would be in our rotation but they’re not. Alex while disappointed is also realistic and understands completely.

“He gets the big picture of what we are doing and he’s also a tremendous teammate. He recognizes that he has a lot of value in the role he will be in in our bullpen and he accepts that completely.”

John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said the Cardinals would like to get Reyes to approximately 100 innings this season which would then put him in line to compete for a spot in the rotation next season.

Mozeliak said the team’s internal discussions have been about the role that Reyes will fill in the bullpen.

“How do you best optimize someone that may look as well as anybody in this camp?” Mozeliak said. “He’s throwing the ball extremely well. We’ll try to be smart about this and see how things are going for him but obviously we’re really excited about what we are seeing from him this spring.

“The most important thing you can do is protect him from a health standpoint.”

Shildt did not want to put a “magic” number on Reyes’s innings for this year but said he knows Reyes will be counted on in a variety of ways.

‘I look at it as a real opportunity and I don’t want to pigeon-hole it into one set situation,” he said. “I think there are multiple ways Alex can be used. We’re not going to ride him just to get innings either just to try to get to some mythical number.”

Reyes made his third appearance of the spring on Tuesday. He struck out the first two hitters he faced, then gave up his first two hits of the spring before finishing his one inning with another strikeout.

“He had some good stuff; his changeup I thought was filthy today and his breaking ball was as good as ever with a live fastball,” Shildt said. “He got a little traffic and didn’t make more of it than it was and got himself out of it.”

Here is how Tuesday’s game broke down:

High: Carlos Martinez worked three scoreless innings in a big improvement from his first start of the spring.

Low: The Mets rallied from a 3-0 deficit, scoring all five of their runs in the seventh inning off relievers Angel Rondon and Seth Elledge, aided by a throwing error by third baseman Nolan Gorman that led to three unearned runs.

At the plate: Justin Williams had two hits, including his first home run of the sprng … The Cardinals had only one other hit, an RBI single by Andrew Knizner … Their third run scored on a sacrifice fly by Edmundo Sosa … Matt Carpenter was 0-of-2 with a walk and a strikeout. He is now 0-of-13 this spring with seven strikeouts.

On the mound: Martinez allowed two hits, walked two and struck out three … In addition to Reyes, Genesis Cabrera, Tyler Webb and Kodi Whitley all worked scoreless innings in relief.

Worth noting: Mikes Mikolas has had another setback in his recovery from last summer’s arm surgery and a sore shoulder this spring. He will not throw a bullpen as scheduled on Wednesday and instead will get more imaging on his arm and shoulder. Shildt conceded this almost assures that Mikolas will not be ready to pitch when the season begins … Harrison Badrr, who has not played since the second game of the spring because of a sore forearm, is scheduled to be in the lineup on Wednesday … The Cardinals announced that they will hold their alternate camp site at the Gateway Grizzlies ballpark in Sauget, Ill. The camp is expected to open on April 6 and last about a month until the Triple A season begins. The roster is expected to be primarily the roster that will begin the season for Memphis, along with some extra catchers.

Up next: The Cardinals will play the Nationals in a pair of games on Wednesday in West Palm Beach. Jordan Hicks is scheduled for his first competitive outing in the morning “B” game, with John Gant working as the starter. Jack Flaherty is scheduled to start the regular game.

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Monday, March 8, 2021

Weather: 71 degrees, partly cloudy

Result: Cardinals 7, Marlins 7 (tie)

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Delvin Perez and Dylan Carlson were selected 10 picks apart in the first round of the 2016 draft by the Cardinals and while Carlson’s prospect status has been on the rise ever since, the same can’t be said about Perez.

There are some indications this spring, however, that that could be changing.

Perez, who was the first of the Cardinals three first-round picks that year, the 23rd overall selection, was invited to the major-league camp for the first time and is making the most of his opportunity. He’s also showing off his new-found strength after a year dedicating himself in the weight room as a substitute for the canceled minor-league season in 2020.

He entered Monday’s game in the fifth inning as a pinch-hitter for Tyler O’Neill – and lined a triple into center field that broke a 5-5 tie. The hit had an exit velocity of 109 miles per hour.

“That ball just sounded loud,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It got in the gap pretty quickly. He’s put on some weight and he looks good.

“I was familiar with him from instructional league and we’ve brought up him in previous springs, so there is some familiarity with Delvin. The impression this spring is that he’s clearly gotten stronger.”

Perez had been 0-of-3 this spring before his triple, which came one batter after Carlson, expected to begin the season as the starting right fielder, tied the game with a 2-run single.

Perez, who did have another triple in an intrasquad game last week, and Carlson were teammates in rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League the summer that they were drafted, but Perez’s career has not followed the same path as Carlson’s – he hasn’t played a game above low Class A Peoria, where he hit .269 in 2019.

What will be interesting will be to see how much the Cardinals try to challenge the 22-year-old Perez, with his new-found strength, when they decide where he will play to begin this season. A return to Peoria is possible since it will be the high Class A affiliate this year but they also could decide to send him to Double A Springfield, which should be loaded with most of the organization’s top prospects.

Here is how Monday’s game broke down:

High: One day after his three-run homer, O’Neill drove in three more runs with a bases-loaded double in the first inning.

Low: The four runs in the first inning increased the total to 16 runs allowed by the Cardinals in the first inning in the seven games so far this spring. Only once has their starter retired the side in order in the first (Adam Wainwright on March 2).

At the plate: Paul Goldschmidt had his first extra-base hit of the spring, a leadoff double in the third inning, but he was left stranded … Justin Williams, who had been 1-of-12 this spring as he fights for a spot as a backup outfielder, had a leadoff single that started the fifth inning rally … Perez struck out in his second at-bat.

On the mound: Kwang  Hyun Kim thought his second start of the spring was better than the first even if he was pulled again, after two outs in the first and 27 pitches. He came back and pitched into the third, finishing the day allowing four runs on six hits and a walk in 2 1/3 innings. He retired six of the 13 hitters he faced, getting an extra out on a double play. “I think it’s a positive sign,” Kim said through an interpreter. “If the results today were the same as last time or bad I would be seriously thinking about this problem. It was improvement from last game and I hope I become better and better as I pitch more games.” Kim should have three more starts this spring, whether they are in a regular game or a B game or simulated game setting … Andrew Miller made his spring debut and walked two of the four hitters he faced and threw a wild pitch, giving up one run … A leadoff walk and his own throwing error put Ryan Helsley in a jam in the ninth but he stranded the go-ahead run at third by retiring the next three hitters.

Worth noting: With Miller and Evan Kruczynski making their first appearances of the spring, the only four pitchers of the 33 in camp who have not appeared in a game are Miles Mikolas, Jordan Hicks and Jovan Oviedo, although Oviedo did pitch two innings in a B game … Former Cardinal lefthanded pitcher Rheal Cormier died on Monday from cancer. He was 53 … Three of the Cardinals seven games this spring have ended in ties.

Up next: Carlos Martinez will get the start on Wednesday as the Cardinals play the Mets in Port St. Lucie.

 

Postcard from Cardinals camp for Sunday, March 7, 2021

Weather: 71 degrees, sunny

Result: Cardinals 8, Astros 5

By Rob Rains

JUPITER, Fla. – Tyler O’Neill won a Gold Glove last season, but the best contributions he can make to the Cardinals this season is by doing exactly what he did on Sunday.

O’Neill got the Cardinals’ first hit in the game when he singled to center leading off the sixth inning, and he followed that with a fly ball that carried over the right-field wall, thanks in part to a 21-mile per hour wind gusting from left to right. The three-run homer in the seventh sent the Cardinals to the victory.

O’Neill’s homer was the first in six games this spring by a player expected to be a regular this season.

He knows all too well the questions that exist about the Cardinals’ offense after a couple of lean years but O’Neill remains convinced it will be better this season than some of the skeptics expect.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on our squad with great track records,” O’Neill said. “Look up and down the lineup. We all know what we can do individually. Maybe seeing a couple of hard-hit balls today is going to get us going.

“It’s still early in spring and we’re still getting our bearings. We have the utmost confidence in ourselves and that’s the bottom line.”

What manager Mike Shildt saw on Sunday was a team that wasn’t discouraged even though it didn’t have a hit through the game’s first five innings.

“If you’re still staying present and taking quality at-bats and staying with it you give yourselves a chance to do what we did,” Shildt said. “If you kind of get discouraged a little bit and say, ‘We haven’t scored, we’re not doing anything, it’s not our day,’ that’s not a winner’s mentality. We’re going to compete and we’re going to get better as the game goes on.

“O’Neill was really intentional when he went up to the plate (in the sixth). He was determined he was going to put a good swing on the baseball and he got a nice hit to center field. Then I think he knew the wind was a factor today but he hit that ball pretty well for the big three-run homer.”

Here is how the game broke down:

High: Adam Wainwright had his second consecutive strong start, allowing only one wind-aided hit in his three innings, recording five strikeouts.

Low: Matt Carpenter was 0-of-3 and struck out twice. He is now hitless in 11 at-bats this spring with six strikeouts.

At the plate: The Cardinals only baserunner through the first five innings was Paul Goldschmidt, who walked with two outs in the fourth … The Cardinals scored once in the sixth on a single by Paul DeJong and a throwing error before breaking the game open with four runs in the seventh and three in the eighth … Nolan Arenado opened the seventh with a smash to left which was ruled an error and Dylan Carlson had an RBI single before O’Neill’s home run … Three consecutive walks loaded the bases in the eighth before Austin Dean drove them all in with a double to right … Lane Thomas was 0-of-3, snapping his four-game hitting streak.

On the mound: The wind-aided triple off Wainwright led to a run on a sacrifice fly but he retired the other nine hitters he faced, throwing 44 pitches in his three innings of work. In his two combined starts, Wainwright has retired 15 of the 16 hitters he has faced … Matthew Libertore allowed one run on two hits and three walks and Seth Elledge also had control problems, allowing three walks and a hit and retiring only one batter in the ninth … Jake Woodford gave up just one walk in two scoreless innings.

Worth noting: Harrison Bader hasn’t played since the second game of the spring on March 2 as he deals with discomfort in his right forearm. Imaging did not reveal any serious issues, and Shildt said he might be OK to play as early as Tuesday … Jordan Hicks threw another live batting practice session on Sunday. The next step in his comeback will likely be in a “B” game on Wednesday, Shildt said. “He’s building toward a competitive outing and his next step will get him closer to that,” he said … Miles Mikolas will not throw his next bullpen session until Wednesday but Shildt believes there is still enough time for him to be ready to be in the rotation when the season begins.  “We’ve mapped out a plan for him. He feels really good. We are probably being a little cautious but we’re really encouraged by the direction he’s going. We want to keep that trend moving in the right direction,” Shildt said.

Up next: Kwang Hyun Kim will make his second start of the spring on Monday when the Cardinals host the Marlins in Jupiter.

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.