(Source: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Cards News and Notes and March Madness Fun: Bullpen, Ali, and Big Red

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Adam Ottavino could become a familiar face in St. Louis this year. (Source: Scott Rovak/St. Louis Cardinals)

While the entire nation was mesmerized by the NCAA tournament this weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals continued to fine-tune its final roster for this season. While we learned more about Ali Farokhmanesh, the Cornell Big Red, and Omar Samhan and the pesky St. Mary’s squad, Tony La Russa learned a little bit more about his club, too.

-The bullpen is almost full after the third round of cuts this spring. Among those sent to the minors was Josh Kinney. Kinney was the feel-good story at spring’s start. Many were pulling for him to sneak onto the roster after injuries sidetracked his once promising career. He was a key role player in the 2006 championship run, but never regained the health he needed to compete. It seems it may be more of the same for Kinney, who only pitched in three games because of shoulder pain. He will start in Memphis and may see time in St. Louis later on in the summer.

-Kyle McClellan is still in the running for the final starting spot, but he could also fill out the bullpen if no better options are left for the club. He has been solid this spring as a starter and would be more than capable of becoming the fifth starter. But with Kinney still in need of work in the minors to recover, the options are dwindling. Young guns Shelby Miller, Lance, Lynn, and Evan MacLane aren’t ready for the show just yet; they were sent to Minor League camp today.

-Adam Ottavino is one of the few options in the Cards farm system for the ‘pen. He has been perfect in his last two appearances, and will get another chance to make an impression on the staff. The Cards plan to use him on short rest Monday to simulate the grind of the regular season. Relievers need to be ready when their number is called, and quick preparation and turnaround is part of the job description. He has made great strides and has pitched his way into a great situation for 2010. He is resilient, too – another good thing for relief pitchers. Ottavino started 0-9 in Memphis last season. Rather than throw in the towel, he buckled down and helped the Redbirds win the PCL.

-Due to the rain out the Cards will play the Astros and the Red Sox tomorrow. Kyle Lohse will face Houston. Penny and Ottavino get Boston. La Russa plans to have most of the questions, especially those surrounding the bullpen, are answered by next weekend.

Meanwhile, the country has many more questions after this weekend’s play in college basketball. Kansas was a lock and the favorite in most brackets – now everyone knows all about Ali Farokhmanesh. Georgetown got blitzed by Ohio and its outstanding guards. St. Mary’s sent Villanova packing with an inside-out game featuring Mickey McConnell’s rainbows and Samhan’s agile post moves. And Purdue showed us all that its hard-working attitude didn’t leave the Boilers when Robbie Hummel went down. Chris Kramer came up big today to send his team to the Sweet Sixteen.

Just for fun,

here’s my all first-weekend team:

Matthew Dellavedova- Guard, St. Mary’s; While I watched St. Mary’s march to the Sweet Sixteen, I couldn’t ignore the kid with the black and white mouthpiece. He didn’t shoot particularly well, and most wouldn’t think this Australian kid could actually play. But he was in the middle of everything. Taking charges. Grabbing rebounds. Frustrating on defense. And playing smart on offense. Keep an eye on #4 later this week.

Ali Farokhmanesh- Guard, Northern Iowa; This pick is unanimous. First, he drilled a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc to beat UNLV. Then, he led Northern Iowa over the heavy favorite Kansas. After a perfect first half, he swished a three with 35 seconds left to ice the win. Coming out of high school, he had no offers to play Division II ball. Now, he’s this year’s hero.

Cornell- The Ivy League champs have too many good players to pick out one. Louis Dale has been awesome running the point. Ryan Wittman, the Ivy League Player of the Year, plays with confidence scoring in bunches in both games. Jeff Foote brings a presence inside on defense and offense. This team is fun to watch and plays so under control. It should be exciting to watch the controlled attack of the Big Red and those Ivy League student-athletes take on the fast paced athletes of Kentucky. Home-court belongs to Cornell. The team has already played in the Carrier Dome this season and will definitely have the crowd’s support Thursday.

Chris Kramer- Kramer has been a gritty leader his entire career at Purdue. The senior had to be sick of hearing the sympathy for his team. No one gave it a chance against Siena. Texas A&M is from the vaunted Big 12 conference. So, Kramer and Purdue went to work and are now headed to the Sweet Sixteen. He had the signature play today, beating A&M with a drive in the final seconds.

Wes Johnson- A little Orange can never hurt, right? Johnson and the Orange look like the force it was earlier this year as it prepares for Butler in Salt Lake City this week. Johnson finally broke free after quietly producing all season. The star forward re-announced his presence on the national stage with a 31-point, 14-rebound performance against Gonzaga. If Syracuse wants to cut down the nets, Johnson must stay on the attack for another four games.

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