5/18/2014 1:11 P.M. ET
Cardinals celebrate Neal as Honorary Bat Girl
By Alex Halsted and Bill Hester / Special to MLB.com
ST LOUIS -- Karen Neal sat on her couch in Woodlawn, Ill., last fall cheering on the Cardinals in the World Series as many supported her through a battle of her own.
Neal was diagnosed in September with aggressive inflammatory breast cancer. Throughout the battle, the math teacher and mother of two has found an outpouring of support. The Cardinals have provided a diversion.
"It took the focus off of what I was going through and brought something else to root for," Neal said. "The teamwork and the camaraderie -- they're a class act."
Since September, Neal has gone through 11 rounds of chemotherapy and had surgery at the end of March. She recently began radiation, which will include 33 rounds and is expected to be complete by the end of June.
Dressed in pink and in the midst of her final stage to recovery, Neal walked through Busch Stadium on Sunday as a 2014 Honorary Bat Girl representing the Cardinals. A friend and coworker nominated Neal for the Honorary Bat Girl program, which was introduced in 2009 to raise awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrating Mother's Day.
Votes from her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students made her a finalist before a panel of judges selected her as the winner.
"My students were really excited. When I had a chance to visit my school, they'd tell me how much they voted for me," Neal said. "So living the excitement through them has been exciting as well. It's been an honor."
Honorary Bat Girls were honored at ballparks around the country on Mother's Day. With the Cardinals on the road, Neal's day of recognition was set for Sunday's series finale against Atlanta, when she was recognized on the field.
When Neal was selected, questions from her students poured out. Would she meet the players? Could they come to Busch Stadium with her to watch?
Neal arrived at the ballpark Sunday with her husband, Mike, and daughters, Kailey and Cassidy. Church friends and coworkers came, too, and many students told her they planned to travel to the ballpark with their families to watch.
That's the support Neal has found all along. Of course, there have been the Cardinals, too. From her couch last fall to Busch Stadium on Sunday, Neal planned to wrap up one journey and start fresh.
"It's an exciting way to kind of finish with all of my journey that I've done since September," Neal said. "It's just a great way to kind of celebrate as I go through this last phase with radiation and finish up and start the new healing process of relearning how to live my life, because it's kind of been on hold for quite a while."
Garcia makes long-awaited return from DL
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia waited one year and one day to reach Sunday, when he returned to the Cardinals rotation after a year of injuries and setbacks.
Garcia last pitched for St. Louis on May 17, 2013, before he underwent surgery on a torn labrum and rotator cuff. He was expected to compete for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but inflammation during Spring Training caused a setback.
The left-handed pitcher returned to St. Louis on Wednesday after throwing five innings for Triple-A Memphis on Monday and was scheduled to start Saturday before a rainout pushed his long-awaited return to the Majors to Sunday's series finale against Atlanta.
"There have been some bumps in the road -- setbacks here and there -- but that's part of the process, part of the game," Garcia said. "Those are some things you have to deal with and, fortunately, I've been able to take those things and find the positive out of the negative."
To make room for Garcia's return from the 15-day disabled list, the Cardinals optioned right-handed reliever Jorge Rondon to Triple-A Memphis. Rondon didn't make any appearances out of the bullpen after he was promoted on May 13. He was 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 games at Memphis.
The move shrinks St. Louis' bullpen from eight relievers to seven and Garcia gives the Cardinals a fifth starter.
Motte nearing return after rehab appearance
ST. LOUIS -- In this occasion, Jason Motte does not want to go back home.
Motte, who is from Memphis, had a two-inning rehab appearance last week with Triple-A Memphis. He allowed one hit and no runs, striking out two.
He is back in St. Louis and hopes to be activated in time for Tuesday's game with Arizona. Motte missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
"I threw some bullpen today and made sure everything is where we want it to be," Motte said before Sunday's game against Atlanta. ""Hopefully I will be ready to go Tuesday. It's been 13 or 14 months, and it is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I anticipate everything to go well."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is eager to have another weapon to use out of his bullpen.
"He's worked hard and the training staff put together a good plan," Matheny said. "We coached him hard and he pushed hard. That's the only way you come back from something like that. There's no guarantees you'll come back. Everything we're seeing is pointing in a real positive direction."
Matheny was not sure how he would use the former closer when he is activated.
"If there's a need and if he's the right guy for the right situation, we will use him," Matheny said. "I assume in a perfect world we'd find situations to get him comfortable on the mound and comfortable with the atmosphere. Seldom does it work out perfectly. We are not afraid to throw him in a high leverage situation. We're not talking about a guy who hasn't been there before, we're talking about a guy who's closed out a World Series."
Motte is just ready to be back on a big league mound.
"I'm not sure how I will be used," he said. "That's up to Mike and [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist]. I'm here to help the team win and be in situations where I have an impact on the game. It's proving I can do it and putting up zeros."
La Russa takes over D-backs' baseball operations
ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa delivered the commencement address at Washington University on Friday to students who are about to enter the workforce.
One day later, the 69-year-old La Russa had a new job of his own.
La Russa, who will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in July, was hired as chief baseball officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He will report directly to team president and CEO Derrick Hall and oversee the entire baseball operations department.
The D-backs had a 16-28 record when La Russa was announced, the worst start in franchise history since their inaugural season in 1998.
Mike Matheny, who succeeded La Russa as St. Louis' manager after La Russa retired at the end of the 2011 season, feels that Arizona got a special person for the job.
"I had a chance to talk to him [Friday] before the game a little bit and he kind of hinted [about the new position] but didn't want to tip his hand," Matheny said. "I'm happy for him and not surprised. I knew the game would have a lot of opportunities for him. He'll do a great job wherever he goes. I know the Diamondbacks are going to be happy with what they've got."
The D-backs who had the worst run differential of any team in baseball, started the "La Russa regime" with an 18-7 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday night. In the process, they scored seven runs in the second inning off Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
Arizona visits St. Louis for a three-game series starting Tuesday night.
Rosenthal growing into efficient, effective closer
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal recorded his third save in as many days Saturday in a 4-1 victory over Atlanta. It was his 13th save of the season.
"I think it's just that aggressive mentality and making sure he's ready when he gets out there," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's altered his warmup process a little bit to where when he walks out there, he's ready to go."
Rosenthal has certainly been ready to go in the first two games of the Atlanta series. He retired all six batters he faced with four strikeouts. Rosenthal closed out Saturday's victory with three-pitch strikeouts against Chris Johnson and B.J. Upton.
"I haven't had a whole lot of experience, so every day is a learning experience for me," Rosenthal said. "There have been some things I have been working on, but generally it's the same idea of just trying to figure out a way to get the job done, doing whatever I can to get ready and to come in and do my best. Ups and downs are part of the game. I try to go out there and keep the same demeanor, make pitches and hope for the best."
• The Cardinals had four bunt singles in Saturday's win against Atlanta (two each by Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is the first time that has been done since the Detroit Tigers did it in Kansas City on Sept. 23, 2003.
• Randy Choate threw one pitch Saturday and it was a big one. He induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of Freddie Freeman in the eighth. Choate has not allowed an inherited runner to score this season, stranding all eight.
• Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals' No. 1 Draft choice in 2013, had his Double-A debut Saturday night in Springfield. The Gonzaga product pitched five innings in Springfield's 7-4 victory over Arkansas. He allowed six hits and three runs, two earned. He walked two and struck out five. Gonzales threw 90 pitches, 56 of them strikes.
• Shane Robinson and Xavier Scruggs had big games Saturday as Memphis defeated Omaha, 6-2. Robinson was 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored while Scruggs had a double and a triple and drove in four runs.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Bill Hester is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.