02/13/2013 6:58 PM ET
Freeman hones off-speed grip over winter break
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
JUPITER, Fla. -- After left biceps tendinitis shortened his stay in the Arizona Fall League, Sam Freeman was instructed to alter his offseason throwing plans. The Cardinals proposed that instead of resuming a throwing program in mid-November (Freeman's typical start time), he not pick up a baseball until late December.
Freeman adhered to the suggestion. Well, kind of.
While Freeman agreed to not resume throwing until the final days of 2012, he picked up a baseball long before then. In fact, he hardly put it down.
At the suggestion of Nick Sawyer, a 2012 Rays draftee who went through the same high school baseball program as Freeman, the Cardinals lefty adopted a new pitch. Freeman had struggled to develop an effective breaking ball, so he turned to Sawyer's go-to off-speed pitch: a knuckle-curveball.
The grip was initially uncomfortable, so Freeman decided he'd make it natural by walking around holding a baseball. The pair went all sorts of places together.
"I figured I didn't have anything else to do," Freeman said. "So outside of eating, I would carry a ball around and work on the grip."
Freeman, like the Cardinals, is curious as to how the pitch will play out in game situations. Thus far, Freeman has only thrown it in side sessions. Still, the early reviews of the knuckle-curve were positive.
"It was very, very good," manager Mike Matheny said. "He cleaned up his mechanics to where they're more repeatable now. He took a step forward this winter."
"To win a spot, I'm going to have to show that I can use the pitch," Freeman added. "I'm going to have to be aggressive in my approach with everything that I do."
While Freeman could elevate his standing in the organization by showing command of the new breaking pitch, he will still have a tough task breaking into the Cardinals' Opening Day bullpen. The bullpen got crowded with the offseason addition of Randy Choate, who gives the club the second lefty it desired behind Marc Rzepczynski. It seems unlikely that the Cardinals would have a need for a third.
Wainwright pleased with first mound session at camp
JUPITER, Fla. -- A year past the point of having reservations about his surgically repaired right elbow, Adam Wainwright took the mound on Wednesday to begin the buildup process toward Opening Day. He was one of 13 pitchers to throw a side session on the second day of Cardinals camp.
"It went great," Wainwright said afterward. "It was very controlled and the ball is coming out nicely. Right now I'm just trying to get my arm in the proper position and make sure I'm getting the different spin. Everything is going good."
Though Wainwright had no troubles during his recovery from Tommy John surgery, he spent last spring routinely answering questions about his health. His outings were heavily scrutinized, as everyone wanted to see for themselves that Wainwright looked in old form.
He hushed those concerns with a setback-free spring and an uninterrupted season. Wainwright did not miss a start in 2012 and finished with 14 wins.
He'll likely make five or six starts during Grapefruit League action this year, though Wainwright said he isn't so concerned about logging innings as he is making sure he's prepared with all his pitches.
"I'll let it naturally happen," said Wainwright, who would seem to be the leading candidate to pitch for the Cardinals at Arizona on Opening Day. "When I go back to the mound two days from now, whatever my arm puts out, it'll put out. I won't strain it too hard. And each time out, I'll progress a little more naturally."
Cruz in line to reclaim backup catching duties
JUPITER, Fla. -- Technically, the Cardinals still have to select a backup catcher. That's why Tony Cruz, who held the role in 2012, has been told to carry himself as if he is trying to earn a spot back on the Cardinals' 25-man roster.
However, not all candidates enter equally into that competition -- if it can even be referred to as such.
Though the Cardinals signed a pair of catchers -- J.R. Towles and Rob Johnson -- to Minor League deals over the winter, the intention wasn't so much to create competition for Cruz as it was to replenish depth. Those signings came as the Cardinals parted ways with Bryan Anderson and Steven Hill, who combined to cover most of the innings behind the plate in Triple-A Memphis last year.
Desiring to be up front with both Towles and Johnson about their chances to make the Major League club out of Spring Training, manager Mike Matheny has already pulled each aside to more clearly spell out the situation.
"[I told them] that Tony did a great job for us last year," Matheny said. "I don't want to have them under the misconception in that this is a wide-open spot because Tony did everything asked of him last year."
Though he started only 28 games behind the plate, Cruz was praised for the rapport he developed with the pitching staff. He's also had the extended opportunity to learn from Yadier Molina, considered to be one of baseball's best backstops. As a result, Cruz has positioned himself to remain in that post.
"I never say anybody has anything wrapped up. These guys get better when they compete," Matheny said. "But we didn't just have a blind eye to what [Cruz] did last year. He did a great job."
• Thursday marks the Cardinals' report date for their position players, though most have already been spotted at the team's Spring Training complex. Pete Kozma and Adron Chambers were among the new faces on the fields Wednesday. Later in the afternoon, Kolten Wong and Carlos Beltran stopped by the clubhouse.
• Right-handed pitcher Carlos Martinez remains absent from camp due to visa issues in the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals are unsure when Martinez will be cleared to travel to Florida.
• Aside from Martinez, all of the pitchers in the Cardinals' big league camp have thrown their first bullpen session. Those who didn't get on the mound Tuesday did so in front of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, manager Mike Matheny and several others on Wednesday.
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.