Notes: Trial by fire for young relievers
Wainwright, Johnson come through in playoff debuts
SAN DIEGO -- If the staff of the Cardinals could have drawn up a perfect situation for rookie relievers Adam Wainwright and Tyler Johnson to make their playoff debuts, they likely would have scripted something a lot like what happened on Tuesday.
Both pitchers, who find themselves in vital roles in the St. Louis bullpen, made their first career postseason appearances in the 5-1 win over the Padres at PETCO Park. Johnson wriggled out of a tight spot in the seventh inning, while Wainwright got the final four outs with a four-run lead.
They were tight spots, but not too tight. Not life-or-death, but enough significance to get the youngsters' attention.
"For Tyler to get in the game and Wainwright to get in the game and both have good outings, that gets those first-appearance jitters off their back," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "That should help them later on."
Said manager Tony La Russa: "You can get them in there with the game not on the line and they get some experience. I think the fact that they pitched in key situations and got important outs has got to give them some confidence."
St. Louis is carrying three rookies, plus second-year righty Brad Thompson, in its eight-man bullpen in the Division Series. They've benefited from the counsel of veterans like Jason Isringhausen and Braden Looper, but they've also fed off each other and helped each other adjust to the challenges they've all faced.
"I think it's been awesome," Wainwright said. "Having some young guys down there that we can always talk to and shoot the breeze with. But also having the older guys there, you know, for tutelage, and just for learning purposes, it goes both ways. We have a lot of fun together down there and we enjoy being together."
Wainwright came to Spring Training this year hoping to crack the starting rotation. He was shifted to bullpen work, and as the year went on, he found himself in more and more important roles. Now he's the man in the ninth inning, passing by Looper when Isringhausen was injured.
It speaks well of Wainwright's talent that he was promoted, but it also reflects highly on Looper that he put up no fight. The veteran right-hander was brought in for a variety of reasons, but one was to serve as closer-in-waiting if anything were to happen to Isringhausen.
"The more I get to know Braden, the more I realize what a good guy he is," Wainwright said. "Since the beginning of the year he's told me that I have the stuff to be a closer, so when it comes down to it, they may call on me. At the same time, I know that he signed here because he wanted to win. He wanted to be part of a winning club. He could have closed for other teams, but he wanted to come here and win and set up for Izzy.
"I think the great thing about Braden, he's never rooting against anybody. He's never rooted against me, I know that. He's only [congratulatory] and he gives me so many words of advice. It's great to have a guy like that, almost like a big brother down there in the bullpen that helps you with everything."
Edmonds in again: In a mild surprise, La Russa announced Wednesday that he expects to start Jim Edmonds in center field against left-hander David Wells in Game 2. La Russa had said late in the regular season that Edmonds would likely be a platoon player in the postseason.
Edmonds will likely be bumped down from the cleanup spot, a position that will probably be occupied by either Scott Rolen or Juan Encarnacion. Still, what the center fielder showed on Tuesday was encouraging -- as is his 11-for-35 (.314) career mark against Wells.
"He's big against right-handed pitching and he's really big because he plays center field and this is a very spacious center-field area," La Russa said. "I anticipate hitting him against right-handed pitchers in the fourth spot.
"Wells is tough against both sides, and Jim has had some success against him. If it was one of those wipe-them-out left-handers, I'd probably play So [Taguchi]."
Edmonds did not attend Wednesday's optional workout. He visited family in nearby Orange County, Calif.
Wilson to start: With Edmonds set to start again, the only change in the Cardinals lineup for Game 2 -- other than at starting pitcher, of course -- will be in left field. Chris Duncan will be held out against Wells, with Preston Wilson getting the start in his place.
In 113 at-bats against left-handed pitching this year, Wilson produced at a high level. He batted .292 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .496 slugging percentage. Wilson hit five home runs in 36 at-bats against lefties after joining the Cardinals in August.
"He came in with a lot of enthusiasm," La Russa said. "We've always watched him. He's a hard competitor and he's come up with a lot of big hits. He's been a lot of fun on and off the field. He got to be a teammate very quickly."
Coming up: Game 2 is set for Thursday afternoon at PETCO Park. Jeff Weaver will pitch for the Cardinals against Wells and the Padres. The first pitch is expected to fly at 3:09 p.m. CT, and the game will be carried on ESPN.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.