Aside from determining the final bullpen spot, the last week in Jupiter, Fla., is used for rotation positioning, lineup tinkering and ensuring the starters are ready for the 162-game grind.
It’s also a time to reflect on the spring training and what players made the most—and least—of their time in Cards camp.
Kolten Wong found his confidence in camp and left little doubt he deserves to be the starting second baseman on March 31. He batted .372 with a 1.100 OPS, hit two homers and displayed outstanding defense.
“(Wong) has answered a lot of questions,” Matheny explained to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s really done a nice job of taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Matheny has used Wong throughout the lineup, even batting the rookie second. While short on the pop the Cardinals are accustomed to getting from that spot, his speed would be intriguing behind Matt Carpenter.
Peter Bourjos’ defensive reputation gave him the edge over incumbent center fielder Jon Jay heading into camp. Having a far superior spring offensively, in addition to reinforcing his brilliant glove work, makes him the clear starter.
Bourjos told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com that he hopes to continue to get love for more than just his glove:
The last few years have been tough. I may not be a .330 hitter, but I'm definitely better than people give me credit for. One of your buddies will show you an article, and it's really nice about the defensive stuff and not so much the offensive stuff. It's one thing I've been striving for, to become a better hitter and prove people wrong.
Bourjos had his customary strikeout issues, but he drew some walks and showed off his speed. That ability will help even batting near the bottom of the order. It also overcomes range deficiencies from corner outfielders Matt Holliday and Allen Craig.
To make the club, Pat Neshek not only had to pitch well, he also needed a break.
Jaime Garcia’s bum left shoulder and Jason Motte’s slowed rehab left two spots open in the bullpen. Neshek claimed one vacancy by posting a 3.38 ERA over eight innings.
Historically, Neshek is tough on righties and soft on lefties. But Matheny saw enough this spring to believe he’s more than a right-handed version of lefty specialist Randy Choate.
The submarine hurler won’t last long in relief, though, if he can’t continue to hold his own against southpaws. Motte’s May return date and Jorge Rondon’s strong spring put extra pressure on Neshek to deliver early.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. That’s the case with Joe Kelly, who had a forgettable spring while being thoroughly outpitched by Carlos Martinez in the supposed fifth-starter battle.
Despite those numbers, Kelly earns the last place in the rotation. That hints at Matheny's desire all along to have Martinez in the eighth inning. Kelly’s effectiveness as a starter down the stretch last season for the Cardinals also carried some weight with the skipper.
If Motte can move back into a late-inning relief role in the first couple of months, Martinez could bump Kelly back to his usual long-relief slot.
Jay wasn’t going to be the better glove man in center for the Cards. So he had to have a superior spring offensively in order to earn a platoon with Bourjos.
Posting a disappointing .167 average cemented Bourjos’ starter status and left Jay moving around the outfield in an attempt to boost his value.
Jay’s roster spot isn’t in jeopardy, but his playing time could be significantly cut. As long as Bourjos holds his own with the bat while displaying stellar defense, he’ll be on the bench most nights.
Oscar Taveras presumably was healthy and ready to make a case for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Except that he wasn’t.
The Cardinals’ young stallion stumbled out of the starting gate, strutted his stuff briefly, then pulled up lame. Now Taveras will get the chance to regain his stud status in Triple-A Memphis.
Taveras’ mettle will be tested in the minors after the luster from this star prospect was tarnished. The front office will find out early how he copes with the disappointment, particularly with fellow outfield prospects Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty leaving positive impressions with Matheny and Co.
Garcia will start the 2014 season the same way he ended 2013: on the disabled list.
The lefty’s throwing shoulder acted up early in spring training, prompting the team to shut him down and look for alternatives in the rotation.
The season—and career—for Garcia will come down to his ability to pitch with discomfort. Pain, he says, he’s always dealt with on some level in his shoulder and elbow.
"It's always been my elbow," Garcia told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's part of my career. The 2010 season is probably the best I've ever felt.
"My goal is to be ready to go. It could be a month. It could be... who knows?"
Soon, Garcia will get back on a mound on some back field and throw for a handful of on-lookers. But it’s anyone’s guess when he’ll take the ball again in front of thousands in St. Louis.
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