St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Bowman Isn’t Getting Comfortable

Feb 14, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Matt Bowman (67) throws during Spring Training workouts at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 14, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Matt Bowman (67) throws during Spring Training workouts at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals relied on Rule-5 Draftee Matt Bowman heavily in the 2016 season. However, his spot on the MLB team is anything but a sure thing.

The St. Louis Cardinals are in the middle of spring training and in the middle of filling out their MLB roster. Last year, Matt Bowman was part of that roster but now he knows he must earn his spot. Before, he had security knowing that he was selected in the Rule-5 draft and the Cardinals had to keep him in the majors unless they wanted to return him via waivers.

This spring, Bowman was welcomed to the facility by a locker that was on the back wall behind a column. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained that the Cardinals have a tradition of assigning lockers. In the back, near the showers is where a lot of minor league guys are assigned while on the opposite side the premiere corner lockers go to veterans Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina.

Bowman joked with Goold about his locker saying that it could be a message.

“Good motivator,” he said. “I’m one spot less than I was the year before. So, it’s even harder to make the team this year.”

Bowman also recognized that he no longer has that protection of the Rule-5 selection. “It will be easier now for them to put me in the minor leagues,” he said. Now, the Cardinals do have that option. After keeping him on the MLB roster for the entire 2016, they now control his rights and can demote him like any other player.

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Bowman had a great 2016 season pitching in 59 relief appearances and posting a 3.46 ERA. He showed a great ability to induce groundballs and ended up being a late-inning staple for Mike Matheny. He also was one of many reasons the Cardinals felt that Seth Maness was expendable. Now, however, his role isn’t guaranteed and he like many others in spring training must earn his spot.

He started this spring off strong though, striking out the side in his first appearance against the Marlins. Bowman only threw 15 pitches to record the ninth inning save and secured the Cardinals’ first spring win relying on his sinker. The 25-year old caught the attention of manager Mike Matheny. Matheny said he believes Bowman is already in mid-season form and looks strong and ready.

Even though Bowman pitched well last season and Seth Maness isn’t returning, there are others that could challenge Bowman’s job security. John Gant was brought in via the Jaime Garcia trade who pitches in a similar fashion.

However, Bowman’s sinker was exceptional last season and it’ll be tough to beat that. Out of all the pitches opponents put into play against Bowman, 61.7% were ground balls. The next closest on the team was Carlos Martinez at 56.4% and there were only three other pitchers in the National League who did. All three were relievers.

The goal for Bowman this offseason was to build strength and bulk up a bit. If he could do that, the Cardinals believe he could pitch more and later in the seasons. Last year in August, he allowed 10 runs in 11 2/3 innings and it looked almost likely that he may be demoted. Adding strength would help his durability and his experience should help him push through the late season fatigue.

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Matt Bowman and the St. Louis Cardinals know that in order for the team to be successful, they need to have their best pitching available. Bowman had a strong showing in 2016 but that doesn’t guarantee a spot in 2017. This spring will be a determining factor for his role and the Cardinals weren’t shy about making that known. They brought in other competition and subtly placed his locker in the back. However, expect the sinker specialist to be on the Opening Day roster.