Cardinals ready to start performing
Grapefruit League opener against Marlins comes just in time
JUPITER, Fla. -- Practice is a necessity, and scrimmages are nice, but it's time to start keeping score.
The Cardinals begin Grapefruit League play on Monday with a 12:05 p.m. CT start against their co-tenants at Roger Dean Stadium, the Marlins, and it's not a day too soon. Some Cards have been in town for three weeks or more, and all of them have been working out on the practice fields for at least nine days. They're ready to compete against somebody wearing a different uniform.
"It's time to play," said second baseman Skip Schumaker. "The practice, getting ready, is needed. But I think after that first week, you're down here long enough. I think you know how to get ready and prepare, and I think the majority of the guys in here know how to get ready and prepare themselves."
Monday's contest will feature the debuts of a few Cardinals, as well as the bona fide beginnings of a couple of competitions. A camp that once looked fairly rote has been filled with intrigue due to a couple of significant injuries, so the Cards' spring games will be about more than just getting ready for the regular season.
The lineup that takes the field for the opener will bear a decent, but not identical, resemblance to the one that faces the Padres on Opening Day, March 31 in St. Louis. Manager Tony La Russa said Sunday that he'll play at least five of his regulars: Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Schumaker, and newcomers Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot.
2010 Spring Training - St. Louis Cardinals
News & Features
- Wainwright gets in final spring throwing session
- Cardinals Notebook: April 1, 2012
- Garcia stymies Nats in final tuneup for season
- Prospect Rosenthal making jump to Double-A
- Cardinals Notebook: March 31, 2012
Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
Berkman's appearance carries some intrigue, as fans are curious to see how the veteran handles his first outfield duty since 2007. He's been bothered by elbow soreness, but seems unconcerned about the issue. Theriot is also something of an uncertainty, returning to his old position after the Cubs moved him off shortstop for the 2010 season.
Both are known as longtime rivals of the Redbirds, and now they're wearing the birds on the bat for the first time.
In addition to intrigue, though, there's competition. And that's something that pleases La Russa greatly, even if he hates the reasons for it. The injury to ace Adam Wainwright opened a job in the starting rotation, while Nick Punto's injury created an opportunity on the bench.
Monday's starter, Raul Valdes, is one of the candidates for that job, and it's not impossible that Bryan Augenstein, also slated to pitch, could force his way into the picture. Kyle McClellan is the favorite, but just a year ago, Jaime Garcia came from underdog to earn a starting job in the St. Louis rotation. Slated to pitch after Valdes and Augenstein are Blake King, Fernando Salas, Francisco Samuel and Eduardo Sanchez.
La Russa insists that no decisions will be made in the camp's first week. But for longer shots like Valdes and Augenstein, opportunities to impress are precious.
"We can't wait till the week before [the season starts] to start narrowing the number some," La Russa said. "But now is not the time. Now is the time to keep an open mind and really try to look at what you're seeing. In case there's somebody that jumps out, you say 'hey.' Right now everybody's going to get the same attention."
As for the bench, it appears that David Freese will not start at third base on Monday, so the competition for those jobs will get rolling from the first time through the batting order. Allen Craig, Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and Ramon Vazquez are the leading candidates for two roles in the infield, including one spot as the primary backup at third base. Freese is recovering from surgery on both ankles.
And then there's Pujols, whose appearance in games always garners attention. Pujols could be playing his last spring opener as a Cardinal, since he will almost certainly become a free agent at the end of the year. Coming off a healthy winter that included no rehabilitation or surgeries, Pujols could be in for a big year in 2011.
Like his teammates, he's ready for some competition, but he has his eye on Opening Day.
"That's what Spring Training is all about," he said. "You get here and you get those 10 days to get yourself prepared for the games. It's always a plus. You can't just come here and start playing games right away. You need to get the bunt plays and the little things that are going to help us out to win in the games. Getting that taken care of, and the next 30 days here you execute that and you'll be ready to go for March 31."
Pujols also dismissed any skepticism or pessimism about the club in light of Wainwright's injury. He's eager to start proving doubters wrong.
"It doesn't matter where you get picked, first, winning the division, or last," he said. "It doesn't matter. You still need to perform. Because you get picked first by the media, the genius guys that know everything, that doesn't mean that you're going to be in the playoffs. You still have to perform."
They start performing on Monday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.