JUPITER, Fla. -- With Lance Lynn set to be in the rotation indefinitely now that Chris Carpenter has been diagnosed with nerve inflammation in his right shoulder, the club will have one additional bullpen opening to fill by the end of Spring Training. That means that of the nine relievers remaining in big league camp, seven are expected to begin the year in St. Louis.
Jason Motte has already been designated the closer. Marc Rzepczynski and J.C. Romero will serve as the club's two lefty relievers. Kyle McClellan, who will make $2.5 million in 2012, could slide into a long relief role, assuming he is with the team at the start of the season. For months his name has been floated as a potential trade candidate.
Four relievers on the 40-man roster -- Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Victor Marte -- remain in the mix. So, too, does non-roster veteran right-hander Scott Linebrink, who has not allowed a run in 7 2/3 spring innings.
"Strong competition is always good in Major League camp because it brings the best in your players," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "It keeps their radar up. It's healthy competition. We'll see who rises to the top."
The Cardinals have an opening on the 40-man roster, so it would be no issue adding Linebrink before season's start. He seems likely to take that spot, too, given the experience he brings and the fact that he could otherwise ask to be released if he is not placed on the Opening Day roster.
Manager Mike Matheny has praised Boggs all spring, though the 28-year-old righty has had a few hiccups during games. Salas' spring hasn't been entirely clean, either, though he did have his routine interrupted by a trip home for the birth of his son. Sanchez has tossed eight scoreless innings. Marte, who could again be plugged in as the closer in Triple-A Memphis, has allowed one run in six innings.
The Cardinals are expected to make another round of cuts early next week, and one of these relievers could be among that group sent to Minor League camp. The club has not entirely ruled out beginning the year with eight pitchers in the 'pen, but that is still viewed as an unlikely scenario.
Strong on defense, Hill out to improve offense
JUPITER, Fla. -- Koyie Hill's bat never did carry him to the Majors. That job security he recently enjoyed as the Cubs' backup catcher was prompted by his defensive ability and the rapport he developed with the pitching staff.
Still, his expectation for himself is that his offensive numbers can improve, even though he won't get the benefit of regular at-bats if he makes the big league roster.
"[Inconsistent playing time] is something that I have had to get adjusted to," Hill said. "But I do feel like in the at-bats that you do get -- whether it's 100 or 150 or 200 at-bats -- I feel like I really want to get more out of those at-bats than I have in the past."
Hill's best offensive season came in 2009, which, probably not coincidentally, was also the year he played the most consistently. Yet the numbers were still below average. He hit .237 with a .312 on-base percentage and struck out almost every three at-bats. His strikeout ratio was similar last year, when he hit .211 with a .275 on-base percentage.
The Cardinals are not overly concerned about the offensive numbers of their backup catcher, but the other two candidates for the job -- Bryan Anderson and Tony Cruz -- have shown more offensive potential. If the club is leaning toward giving Hill a Major League job, it would be because of his experience and defensive ability.
After an 0-for-2 day in Friday's 2-1 win over the Marlins, Hill is 3-for-16 for the spring. Cruz had eight hits in 21 at-bats, and Anderson has seven in 15 at-bats.
"As long as your defense is there and your confidence is solid and the rest of the staff knows it, then it makes it a lot easier to handle things on offense," Hill said. "You know you're doing your job on defense. You're going to put a lot of emphasis on that part in the 30 to 35 to 40 games that you get to catch."
Allen Craig is working his way back into offensive and defensive work during Minor League games, and the Cardinals anticipate that he'll begin taking ground balls in the infield soon. Through Thursday, Craig's defensive work had been limited to the outfield, as that has been easier on his surgically repaired right knee. If all continues to progress well, Craig shouldn't be that far from making his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game. There is still a chance that he'll be healthy enough to be on the Opening Day roster.
Manager Mike Matheny suggested again that he is leaning toward having Carlos Beltran hit second in the batting order. Beltran hit fifth in Friday's 2-1 win over the Marlins, but that was due to the absence of David Freese. Beltran, who was back in right field on Friday, has hit primarily out of the two-hole this spring.
Freese is not scheduled to make Saturday's trip to Port St. Lucie, Fla., for the game against the Mets, but he said on Friday that the consecutive days off have nothing to do with any injury issue. Freese has not had back-to-back days off since the start of Grapefruit League play.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified over the offseason included a new clause that guaranteed players two off-days during Spring Training. Because the Cardinals only have one off-day built into their Grapefruit League schedule, players have been choosing one other day to stay home. Many of those off-days have come this week.
The Cardinals have not announced which players will travel to Springfield, Mo., to play an April 2 exhibition game two days before the start of the regular season. Weather, Matheny said, could partially dictate which pitchers travel north. Though Jake Westbrook will need one extra start between Grapefruit League play and his first start of the regular season, it won't be in Springfield. Westbrook will likely pitch a simulated game or in a Minor League game in Florida on April 3 or 4.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.