SPRING TRAINING UPDATE
While taking a couple days off from the World Baseball Classic, I realized that I had been severely neglecting my Cardinals. It is an easy thing to do when only about half the games are broadcast on the radio, even fewer are televised and most all take place while I am at work.
Work is like a sacrifice fly. I do not get on base, but I score the funds to live in an enclosed space, eat ballpark hot dogs and wear clothes adorned with the birds on the bat.
Just because the opportunity to savor Spring Training games has been sadly lacking, do not think I have not been paying attention to my beloved Redbirds. Thanks to the fine beat writers at stlcardinals.com and stltoday.com, I get the daily scoop.
Blessedly, for the most part, I like what I hear. The starting rotation is shaping up. The headline is a healthy and sharp Chris Carpenter that has yet to give up a run. Kyle Lohse has pitched the most innings and has a 3-1 record. Joel Pineiro has a low 1.29 ERA. Adam Wainwright is has good command of his fast ball. Todd Wellemeyer has been burned by the long ball, but I know he will work that out. How do I know? Well, I will tell you in a bit.
Jason Motte has excelled in the bullpen going 4-4 in saves vs. save opportunities, with an ERA of 1.08. Josh Kinney is 2-2 in saves with a 1.29 ERA. Chris Perez has struggled with shoulder soreness, but he still has time to come around. Ryan Franklin, the bullpen veteran, is coming along nicely. As is lefty, Trevor Miller.
At the start of Spring Training, positional player questions were plentiful. (Try to say that 5 times fast). Now, it seems we have options. Many young players have made a strong case for themselves. Joe Mather seemed a lock for the temp job at third base. Now, Brian Barden, batting .419, is coming on strong.
The innovative idea to take one of the plenteous outfielders and turn put him in the open slot at second base is working out. Skip Schumaker is making a go of it at second. He had some errors, mostly on throws. He seemed to have a little too much arm for the position. But, he is turning double plays and getting the job done. All the extra work in the field has not taken away from his hitting. He is batting .345.
Also garnering attention as a possible utility infielder is Joe Thurston. He has some speed with two stolen bases. Brendan Ryan is another possibility. One more infielder worth mentioning is Craig Allen. Allen played at Double-A Springfield last year. I watched one Springfield game last year and Craig stood out. He is projected to be at Triple-A Memphis this year, which is rather sad since he is batting .444 and slugging .667. What more could a guy do in Spring Training?
The final question mark is tattooed on the forehead of one young highly touted prospect. Fine, Colby Rasmus’ forehead is tattoo free, but the question gets asked over and over and over: When will Rasmus get the call-up? The jury is still out. Rasmus got off to a slow start, but after a little sit down chat with the skipper, he is hitting very well.
Overall the Cardinals are 14-6, which puts them in second place in the Grapefruit League. I know, it means nothing. But, it is positive. Very positive. Which is the opposite of a negative like this one: Houston‘s 3-16 record. It makes for a happy, hopeful spring for Cardinals fans.
The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit that little round leather orb with the wooden stick. If that is true, then MLB 2K9 is very realistic. I had a little time to play today, and I finally figured out how to swing, but offensively, I stink. I have mastered the groundout to third, as well as the groundout to short. Through no fault of his own, Yadier Molina struck out more times today than he did all season last year. I am ridiculous.
My fielding is getting better. Of course, the only way to go is up when you start with 16 errors in one game.
However, I can really pitch. Todd Wellemeyer is going to be just fine this season. I know this because Welly and I pitched an amazing game today. Complete game, no-hitter, with 23 K’s. Yep, it is a new Major League record.
Our first pitch slider was un-hittable. Then a changeup would usually get strike two. Finally, the payoff pitch: a little high, inside fastball to finish the hitter off. We were dominant. We were efficient, finishing the game on 82 pitches.
But, we still lost. Our pinpoint control vanished just long enough to allow a walk, a stolen base and two wild pitches, which scored the runner. I think Molina could have blocked the wild pitches, but he was mad at me for making him look so ghastly at the plate. Pirates win 1-0. Maybe, we will get ’em tomorrow.
World Baseball Classic
I enjoyed a couple days off, but I am excited for the finals. With no baseball on TV this afternoon (well, there was a cubs game, if that counts), I am embarrassed to admit I watched a Lifetime movie. I am a sucker for John Corbett, no matter how bad the movie. Baseball will be back on tonight to save me from myself!
Pitchers and Catchers reported to work on Saturday, but they were not the only players working out at the Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida. Since the moment Jason Isringhausen faltered in 2008, the biggest question in Cardinals Country has been, “Who’s going to close?” The oldest question is, “Will Chris Carpenter ever return to the rotation?”
Now, there are other questions. With both Miles and Kennedy gone: “Who is going to play second?” With Troy Glaus rehabbing from surgery until May: “Who is going to play third? Then, the glut of able-bodied outfielders begs the question: Who will fill those outfield spots, who will be on the bench, and who will be back in AAA Memphis?”
Barring injuries, the only certain positions are Albert Pujols at first, Yadier Molina behind the plate and Khalil Greene at shortstop. Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick will most likely find themselves some spot in the outfield on opening day, and Skip Schumaker will lead off somewhere.
So much uncertainty means competition. Big time competition. The players know it, and they are there early to get any edge they can. Everybody in the running for 2B, 3B or an outfield spot is already in camp working out. No one is taking anything for granted.
Many of the 2009 Major League teams will be defined by the free agent they signed or did not sign in the off-season. The 2009 Cardinals will be defined by the strength of their farm system, a system that has come through in the past.
I like it. I like it a lot. Most fans would be more comfortable with fewer questions and more proven veterans, but I like the kids. The young, hungry, talented kids with something to prove. The 25 men on the opening day roster will be young warriors. They will have earned their spot. They will know what it takes to win.