3/18/2014 6:45 P.M. ET
Bullpen has fewer questions with Rosenthal at closer
By Paul Casella / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At this time last spring, the back end of the Cardinals' bullpen was a bit of a mess, to put it simply.
Closer Jason Motte was struggling and on the verge of being shut down due to an injury that eventually resulted in season-ending Tommy John surgery. Mitchell Boggs was away from the team, competing in the World Baseball Classic. Edward Mujica was stumbling his way to an 8.49 ERA over 12 appearances.
As it turned out, none of the three panned out as the Cardinals' ninth-inning man, and it wasn't until the final week of the regular season that St. Louis found its closer in Trevor Rosenthal. Though Mike Matheny realizes things could still change before Opening Day -- as evidenced by Motte's season-ending injury a year ago -- the Cards skipper admitted it's a nice luxury to have Rosenthal currently locked into the closer's role.
"I think everybody would like to have their ninth inning pretty well thought about," Matheny said. "You never say it's secure, because anything could happen, but Trevor did such a nice job last year and proved it's a position he can excel at. And that's a nice spot to work from for us."
The Cardinals, however, still need to figure out who will be handing the ball off to Rosenthal. Carlos Martinez, who bridged the gap to Rosenthal last October, and Joe Kelly, who pitched in close postseason games a year before, are both battling to crack the starting rotation. Motte, meanwhile, is expected to remain out until May as he continues his recovery.
While those questions still need to be worked out, Matheny is thankful to have his ninth-inning plan locked into place and is looking forward to seeing how Rosenthal builds off his dominant breakout performance last October.
"We realize we've got some unanswered questions in the innings leading up to the ninth, but you can't put a kid in a bigger situation than [Rosenthal] was in last year, and he did a terrific job," Matheny said. "So I'm excited to watch him continue to improve."
One bad pitch the difference for Miller
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller turned in his longest outing of the spring in Monday's 10-5 loss to the Red Sox, yet once again, there was one particular pitch still on his mind afterward.
For the second straight outing, Miller's main blemish came on a two-out, two-run homer in the third inning. One week after serving up a home run in the same exact situation to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, Miller suffered the same fate against Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
This time around, Pedroia's blast -- the first of three Sox homers on a day when the wind was steadily blowing out to left field at JetBlue Park -- accounted for the only two runs Miller allowed while still on the mound. A third run was charged to Miller after he departed the game when reliever Tyler Lyons balked in an inherited runner from third base.
Miller has now conceded a lone home run in each of his three spring outings, with those homers accounting for all five runs he's allowed while in the game.
"One bad pitch. Every single run I've given up this year has been on a home run," Miller said. "So I'm that close to being where I want to be. Just one bad pitch in each game is making the difference right now."
One inning after Pedroia's homer, Miller got two quick groundouts before running into some two-out trouble that ultimately ended his afternoon. He issued a walk to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski followed with a single that moved Bogaerts to third and knocked Miller out of the game.
"He was using a lot of his pitches today, so it was kind of a different philosophy," manager Mike Matheny said "It's a catch-22: you're working on your secondary pitches, but also you're competing. It makes it hard to be as sharp as you want to be or have the results be as good as you're used to. But I thought he did a good job."
Though the overall feeling of Monday's start was very similar to his first two, there was also one glaring difference. Unlike his first two spring starts in which he recorded a combined nine strikeouts, Miller didn't strike out a single Red Sox batter over 3 2/3 innings. He also issued three walks -- one of which ultimately came around to score -- after having not walked a batter over five innings in his first two Grapefruit League starts.
"The past couple games, I felt like I threw more strikes compared to today," Miller said. "I was kind of battling all day, but like I said, I'm really close to where I want to be. So it's just a matter of when can you put it all together. Hopefully, next time that'll happen."
Matheny is also confident that will happen for Miller sooner rather than later, saying the frustrations of having each start tarnished by one mistake will ultimately help Miller down the road.
"Overall this spring, the things he's working on will make him a better pitcher," Matheny said. "He's facing some good lineups, but he's a good pitcher and I'll put him out there against them, so it's something he'll have to get used to."
Motte ramps up intensity in latest BP session
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Reliever Jason Motte took another step Monday toward his long-anticipated return, successfully navigating his second live batting-practice session at the team facilities in Jupiter, Fla.
Motte ramped up the intensity, throwing 20-25 pitches to Minor Leaguers Nick Longmire and Bruce Caldwell. Catcher Carson Kelly caught Motte, while pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and many of the Cards' pitchers who didn't make the trip to Fort Myers for Monday's game against the Red Sox watched from behind the batting cage.
"I'm pretty close [to maxing out]," Motte said when asked where he felt he was at in his rehab. "There is no radar gun, but I felt pretty good. It was 100 percent of what I had today. What percentage that is overall, I'm not sure."
Motte added that he thought less about the actual pitching process this time around, instead regaining enough trust in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) to just naturally deliver the baseball -- another major step in the lengthy recovery process stemming from last May's Tommy John surgery.
"I think last time I was a little tentative, a little hesitant … [but] last time was already a big step," Motte said. "The hitters are swinging. It doesn't matter if it's Minor League guys or big league guys -- if they get a good pitch, they're going to put a good swing on it."
As for what's next, the right-hander will throw another live batting-practice session on Friday, during which he expects the intensity to increase yet again. From there, Motte is projected to start the season in extended spring training before going on a Minor League rehab assignment.
Motte, who underwent surgery in early May, remains on track to be ready within the typical 12-month recovery timetable. At the same time, however, he said he wouldn't rule out a potential earlier return, given how well he felt following Monday's session.
"It also depends on the next couple weeks," Motte said. "I may go out and feel great tomorrow then in the next live BP, be spot on. There is still some throwing that can be done in the next two weeks.
"You want to be able to pitch. You want to be in big situations. You want to help the team win. That may happen the first week in April or not. I'm not really putting anything out of the realm of possibility, because we've recovered pretty well."
Cards' speed gives Matheny added weapon
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his first two years at the helm, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has never made it a point to deploy a lineup centered around speed. Despite the current club having some faster options than in year's past, he still doesn't necessarily intend to change his style -- though he's enjoyed the added weapon so far this spring.
The Cardinals last season recorded a National League-worst 45 steals. Their leading basestealer, Jon Jay, swiped just 10 bags. That figures to change this year with newcomer Peter Bourjos, who swiped 22 bases with the Angels in his only season as a full-time starter in 2011, and second baseman Kolten Wong. Both are expected to see substantial playing time.
"We've enjoyed having those guys on base, and not just for stolen bases," Matheny said. "We've got a few steals, but that hasn't been our goal as much as just getting guys ready, start working on their breaks and jumps. We've seen guys score easily from second base, we've seen them easily move first to third and just taking advantage of things like a ball in the dirt."
Adding someone with Bourjos' speed to the lineup has even proved effective before he sets foot on first base. Just last Saturday, Bourjos stepped to the plate and laid down a sacrifice bunt with runners on first and second, and nobody out. Braves pitcher Gus Schlosser fielded the bunt and, with Bourjos racing down the line, threw the ball away.
Tony Cruz scored from second on the play, Joe Kelly went from first to third and Bourjos winded up on second base. One batter later, Kelly and Bourjos each scored on a base hit up the middle.
"Because he runs so well, there's a component of panic that hits the defense. And next thing you know, balls are flying all over the place," Matheny said. "It instantly puts pressure on the defense. Is there a way to tangibly measure that? I don't know, but I'll tell you that defenses start to position differently ... and when you take guys out of their comfort zone, mistakes tend to happen."
That said, Matheny will continue to try and exploit his new weapons only when it seems fit, such as Saturday's situation against the Braves. He by no means plans to revamp the Cardinals' offensive game plan this season, but he has enjoyed the new perk so far.
"I still stay right where I've always been, and that's: If we have the opportunity and things line up and make sense, we're going to do it," Matheny said. "We're not going to force the issue. I've never been pushing for more speed, but I see the advantage to it."
• Recently signed Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz returned to Mexico on Monday to complete the final steps in obtaining his work visa. Diaz had been in camp with the Cardinals and competed in Minor League games, but he is not allowed to play in games at the big league level until officially obtaining his visa.
• Following Monday's loss to the Red Sox, the Cardinals reassigned pitchers Tim Cooney and Lee Stoppelman, and catcher Travis Tartamella to Minor League camp. With the three moves, the Cards now have 41 players in big league camp, including seven non-roster invites.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. Jenifer Langosch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.