There should really be no doubt who the St. Louis Cardinals will tab as their opening day starter. Right now, Chris Carpenter is the only player on the team, other than Adam Wainwright (maybe) who deserves to get the ball when the Cardinals help open up Miami Ballpark against the Marlins on April 4th.
Since Wainwright is coming off injury, the Cardinals may look to maneuver his starts in the early parts of the season in order to lighten the load. That said, it leaves the honors to Carpenter. Here is the only issue. Carpenter has thrown over 500 innings the last two seasons. The Cardinals have no intention of babying him during the season, and Carpenter likely wouldn’t allow it, so they have decided to take this spring really slow. Carpenter is the only pitcher expected to be on the opening day roster yet to throw a live batting practice session according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This is not due to injury, but so that he is not tired come opening day.
Carpenter will turn 37 at the end of April and has a history of elbow problems. He, like Wainwright, has undergone Tommy John surgery. Some players receive this surgery and they are able to finish out their careers without further issues. Some others, Joel Zumaya, for instance, cannot seem to get back to the point prior to the surgery without getting hurt again. The Cardinals feel that if they take it slow with Carpenter, then the likelihood of any type of injury diminishes. My only question with this method; what if the slow ramp up affects the way that Carpenter is used to preparing? I cannot say for certain this is going to be a problem, but ballplayers are creatures of habit and it follows with their training.
Manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher, knows this better than anyone. A pitcher needs a certain amount of time to feel complete. Being on a throwing program has one requirement, being 100% ready for a real game at the end of spring training. With that in mind, Matheny has asked Carpenter to make sure he is letting them know how he feels, and is allowing him to assist in setting up the schedule for spring training games. It looks as though Carpenter will skip a start here or there during camp in addition to the slow progression to facing live hitters. As of now, Matheny is leaning toward Carpenter taking the hill in Miami, but says, “…a lot can still happen.”
CRAIG SLIGHTLY AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Allen Craig‘s knee is healing well according to medical staff as reported by MLB.com reporter Jenifer Langosch. The concern now is when he will be able to begin running at full speed as the team is not worried about Craig’s hitting. Being ahead of schedule is not a guarantee that Craig will be ready for opening day. Matheny noted that Craig’s progress is monitored daily and the determination of when he’ll be ready for games will be fluid based on what he sees and what he is told by the medical staff.
PLAYERS GETTING LOOKS AT OTHER POSITIONS
In an effort to have as many options as possible once the season begins, Matheny has decided to give David Freese some grounders at first base at some point during spring training. Matheny is not stressing this as a need, but something he would like to do. He first wants Freese to be ready to play third base. Having Freese able to play first, would alleviate any pressure to run Craig out there too early once starting first baseman, Lance Berkman needs a day off. With some aging players on the roster, versatility among the group is critical. The younger players will thus be tried in positions during the spring which are not their natural spots.
This includes prospects Matt Carpenter and Mark Hamilton who will see some time in the outfield. While playing for the AAA Memphis Redbirds last season, Carpenter played all of his 122 games at third, while Hamilton played 61 games at first and 3 in the outfield. Carpenter has a big bat and has a chance to latch onto the team as a backup. His ability to play other positions will aid in his chances.
Goold tells us that Matheny has begun to lump veterans in hitting groups. Today, Matt Holliday, Berkman, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina are in the same group. Welcome to spring camp John Gast. Fielding drills have also been set up in groups today and they look like a set of roster ready players and another of minor leaguers, which could be telling about who has the lead for roster spots as of now. Kyle McClellan, Fernando Salas, Shelby Miller and Brandon Dickson are set to throw live batting practice today.