By Rob Rains
When manager Mike Shildt had the fun assignment on Sunday of telling John Nogowski that he had made the Cardinals opening day roster, there was only one problem.
Shildt knew Nogowski had a big grin on his face; he just couldn’t see it behind his mask.
“It’s one of the best parts of the job,” Shildt said. “It was clear he was on a mission to make this team. Unfortunately we have masks. (Usually) you get to see wonderful, enthusiastic, Christmas-morning smiles. But he was appropriately happy.”
The 28-year-old Nogowski, who played one game for the Cardinals in the shortened 2020 season, led the team with 12 RBIs this spring while hitting .355. He also drew nine walks, the most on the team, in 42 plate appearances while striking out only three times.
“This guy just hit his way onto the team,” Shildt said. “Not that it was solely about the offense but he just took a lot of tough at-bats. He did it against a lot of different looks – guys with riding life, guys with sink, guys that cut it, lefties, righties. We looked up and realized this guy can have a good at-bat pretty much against anybody we’re going to see, including guys with some hop on their ball.
“We felt good about him last year and he was kind of the odd-man out but he more than earned his spot this year.”
Nogowski did log a few innings in left field this spring but his primary role during the season will be as a pinch-hitter considering Paul Goldschmidt will be occupying first base on an almost nightly basis.
The Cardinals announced their 26-man roster following Sunday’s game, featuring 13 pitchers and 13 position players. The team elected to keep outfielders Austin Dean and Justin Williams, optioning Lane Thomas. Edmundo Sosa made it as the backup infielder over Jose Rondon, no doubt due in part to the fact that he is out of options.
Jake Woodford won the final spot in the team’s bullpen, beating out Kodi Whitley.
Harrison Bader and pitchers Miles Mikolas and Kwang Hyun Kim will open the season on the injured list.
“This is my third spring training in this position and this is as hard of decisions as we’ve had,” Shildt said. “We knew coming in we would have them and a lot of times the camp kind of sorts itself out and things get to be pretty crystalized. But it stayed competitive the whole camp.
“We had a lot of healthy dialogue from a lot of different angles. There was a lot of internal debates and a lot of hard conversations with players.”
The injury to his right forearm that will force Bader to likely miss the first month of the season opened up a spot in the outfield competition, with Dean and Williams edging out Thomas. Williams is the only lefthanded hitter of the group.
Rondon, signed as a minor-league free agent over the winter, hit better than Sosa this spring (.259 to .130) but tailed off near the end of camp. Sosa also is likely the better of the two defensively.
Woodford finished the spring with an 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings while Whitley did not allow a run in 7 1/3 innings.
“There’s some guys left off the roster who are major-league players that we could play with,” Shildt said. “Good teams have that kind of depth. We’re excited about taking the group we are taking.”
That group includes Jordan Hicks, coming back from Tommy John surgery in June 2019, who convinced the Cardinals that he was ready to start the season although there will be some restrictions on his use, especially early in the year.
“The guy is throwing 98 with sink,” Shildt said. “Much like everybody’s stuff when it’s on the plate it’s really nasty. That slider is an unbelievable weapon. We are really pleased with where Jordan is and look forward to getting him to the start of the season.”
Here is the complete roster for Thursday’s opener in Cincinnati:
Position players – Yadier Molina, Andrew Knizner, Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Paul DeJong, Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Justin Williams, Austin Dean, Matt Carpenter, John Nogowski, Edmundo Sosa.
Pitchers – Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, John Gant, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jordan Hicks, Alex Reyes, Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, Jake Woodford, Andrew Miller, Tyler Webb, Genesis Cabrera.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
John Nogowski photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports