03/26/08 6:43 PM ET
Cardinals narrowing down roster
Bullpen, infield slots only remaining questions for St. Louis
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Relievers Chris Perez, Cliff Politte and Hugo Castellanos were reassigned to Minor League camp on Wednesday morning, while reliever Kyle McClellan and outfielder Brian Barton have been told that -- barring something unforeseen -- they will make the team. Outfielder Juan Gonzalez was placed on the temporarily inactive list.
"Mo [general manager John Mozeliak] is having discussions all the time," manager Tony La Russa said. "Maybe something pops and we get a pitcher or another player, an outfielder, and boom, you take it back. But right now, both of those guys are in good shape. But things can change. I'm not going to shake their hands."
Castellanos is still in camp, even though he won't be on the club. He will travel with them to Springfield, Mo., for two exhibition games, to provide protection in case the Cardinals' pitching staff should be overworked.
That leaves only one decision in the bullpen, and it's a significant one. Either Kelvin Jimenez will get the final spot, or it will go to Anthony Reyes, who has lost out in a competition for the St. Louis starting rotation.
If Reyes is not in the bullpen, he will be sent to Triple-A Memphis -- or, possibly, traded.
McClellan, 23, split the 2007 between Class A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. He enjoyed an excellent year as a reliever, but with a background in starting, he was scheduled to go to the Minors and start this season. A fine spring changed those plans, as McClellan forced his way onto the roster.
"It started as, 'I want to come in and make a good impression and maybe try to be one of the top three guys to get called up,'" McClellan said. "But halfway through, it changed to, 'I want to make the team.' And if I don't, not that it's upsetting, but I think I have a chance."
Barton, a Rule 5 Draft selection from the Indians, has enjoyed an excellent offensive spring. He entered Wednesday's game hitting .339/.409/.589 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) and has emerged as one of the winners in a seven-men-for-five-spots outfield derby.
One player who lost out in that derby is Juan Gonzalez, who hasn't been able to stay healthy. Gonzalez hasn't played since March 10 due to an abdominal strain.
The only remaining question on the offensive side comes in the infield, where Brendan Ryan's health remains uncertain. If Ryan's ribcage discomfort has healed and he is deemed to be in playing shape, he will be on the roster. If not, D'Angelo Jimenez will take his spot while Ryan goes on the disabled list.
"I look at, can Ryan play effectively, given the games he's missed? If the answer is yes, then fine," La Russa said. "If the answer is no, then I would rather have somebody that I think can play."
Perez and Politte both pleased the coaching staff with how they pitched this spring, but both are non-roster players, which hurt their causes. Additionally, Perez is still considered rather raw, and the club believes he will benefit from regular work and refinement at Triple-A Memphis.
"We're excited to see Cliff," La Russa said. "He's healthy, it's just getting into pitching. And we were really impressed by Chris. He made some big strides while he was here, from a guy who was out there firing to a guy who was pitching -- and still throwing well."
La Russa also confirmed on Wednesday what has been fairly evident for quite some time -- that Brad Thompson and Todd Wellemeyer have won the last two spots in the St. Louis starting rotation. La Russa was reluctant to confirm that all five jobs are secured, because of the possibility that Kyle Lohse may not be fully ready by the season's first week.
All of the other spots, however, are clearly set. Adam Wainwright will pitch the opener, followed by Wellemeyer and Thompson, with Braden Looper going in the season's fourth game. Wainwright will pitch in the fifth game, and Lohse is currently scheduled to make his regular-season debut in the sixth game.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.