The big news at camp yesterday was the return of Ozzie Smith to the field as an instructor for the Cardinals. There was no love lost between Smith and former manager Tony La Russa stemming from the manager’s replacing Smith with Royce Clayton at shortstop in 1996. The animosity continued after Smith retired and the tension was too much for Smith to be a part of spring training.
New manager Mike Matheny spoke with Smith not long after he was named skipper and asked him to join the team in Jupiter this spring. Smith, a 13-time gold glove winner, will obviously be a big help in the field. He is also expected to assist with base running and stealing bases, phases of the game that Matheny is pushing this spring.
Smith said, “When the opportunity presents itself again, you have to be ready to step into it, and here I am,” Smith said. “I thank them for the opportunity to be able to come out here and put the uniform on. It’s really like coming home.”
CARPENTER TAKING IT EASY
While Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse took their spots on the mound yesterday to throw live batting practice, Chris Carpenter was pitching another side session yesterday, according to MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch. Carpenter, who will turn 37 in April, threw over 270 innings between the regular season and playoffs combined, so Matheny is having him take it extra slow this spring in an effort to put less strain on the right-hander.
There is nothing to be concerned about now with Carpenter, it is just a way to limit the amount of unnecessary throws he will make this spring. With Adam Wainwright on the mend, there is no reason to put another pitcher in harms way by making him follow the same approach as the younger pitchers. I would say that Carpenter has earned the privilege of taking is slow and will be the better for it at the end of the season when he is most needed.
LILLIQUIST DOING IT LIKE DUNCAN
For Derek Lilliquist the statement, ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’, applies to the system of pitcher workouts this spring. The way he is handling the staff is just about exactly how former pitching coach Dave Duncan did when he was roving the Jupiter fields the previous 16 seasons.
The approach makes absolute sense especially with the starting rotation which is extremely experienced as a whole. They don’t need anyone pushing them because they are competitive enough with each other to push themselves.
Lilliquist is more familiar with the younger players in camp and the bullpen as he was a minor league pitching instructor prior to being the bullpen coach at the major league level last season. For theses reasons, it was a wise decision to tab Lilliquist to take over for Duncan. The pitchers are also comfortable and confident in his abilities, which doesn’t hurt.
What remains to be seen is how Lilliquist will handle the staff once games begin. He has the benefit of spending time in the role while Duncan was on a leave of absence last season, but the training wheels are now off and it is Lilliquist’s staff. I’m guessing once games commence we will see some of Lilliquist’s own personality shine through and see exactly what kind of coach he is going to be. For now, he’s smart to let things flow like seasons past.