The Cards are set to take the field in today's practice session that will feature bullpens from Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn among others. Position players are slowly starting to trickle in - Adron Chambers and Pete Kozma waltzed in this morning - but they don't officially practice until later in the week.
Here are the items to look for on this Wednesday morning in Jupiter:
-- Lance Lynn's bullpen session will be the first since practices began officially for pitchers and catchers. He has lost 40 - yes, 40 - pounds and you can barely recognize him. Lynn says he hopes the weight loss will help his conditioning in making it through a grueling six month season. I spoke to Jake Westbrook today, someone who lost a ton of weight himself last offseason for similar reasons, and he thinks this will really work for Lynn. Westbrook says conditioning is a big part of being a starting pitcher and if you don't have it that creates problems throughout the season. Westbrook didn't lose any strength himself when it came to the lost weight and he hopes the same goes for Lynn too.
-- Lynn, like Jaime Garcia, have become even more important with the loss of Chris Carpenter. Sure, Lynn won 18 games last year and made the All Star team. But he also pitched so poorly down the stretch in the second half that he was removed from the rotation. He's got top-of-the-rotation stuff and can replace a lot of what Carpenter gave the Cards (on the field, that is). If he can pitch like a top three kind of guy, and Jaime too, then the Redbirds quite possibly will not feel too many effects of losing the face of their team. Carpenter's leadership is another thing - something that we won't know how it'll be replaced until the year goes on - but from a pitching stand point this team has a chance to be okay. But a huge part of that is Lance Lynn. And his success will hinge largely on his conditioning.
-- Fernando Salas is also throwing a 'pen today. He's someone with a little bit of intrigue himself because how he pitches will determine - or help determine anyway - where some of the kid prospects will end up. Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller are all competing for spots in the rotation and/or bullpen. With Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook all but locked up starting, that leaves one opening. Then with Mark Rzepczynski, Randy Choate, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica locked into the 'pen, that leaves two openings. Sure, Miller, Rosenthal and Kelly could each take those three combined jobs leaving Salas on the outside looking in. But, one would think there is a lot of value in having one of those prospects back in AAA-Memphis for depth purposes. So we'll just have to wait and see how Salas performs this spring (beginning today) because he would be the one to take that fourth righthanded bullpen job to allow for that to happen. If not, you might see all three kids on the big league team out of camp.
Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Jupiter, Florida yesterday and took the field for their first practice of the year today. It all began with a team meeting in which manager Mike Matheny and a select few others give speeches that set the tone for the season.
Among the many things they hit on is what it means to be a Cardinal and how to be a professional. I've asked several players exactly what "The Cardinal Way" means and they all say it comes down to the way you go about your business and respect the game. It's something they feel sets them apart from the rest of the organizations in baseball.
As for the stories of the day, one of them really dominates.
-- Jaime Garcia threw his first bullpen session in Jupiter. There was a lot of intrigue to see how his pitching shoulder would respond to this after getting shut down at the end of the 2012 season. With Chris Carpenter out for the year, and seemingly his career, the importance of Garcia just increased greatly. Now, GM John Mozeliak, Mike Matheny and Garcia himself all don't think he should be under any more pressure. But that's the politically correct thing to say. Losing a talent like Carpenter absolutely puts pressure on everyone else to step up and be better than they would normally be. Otherwise you'll end up at a net loss.
-- Garcia threw the ball well during his session. He drew the praise of many in the organization and said he felt really good. He said his shoulder was strong, very encouraging news to Cardinal fans. He wasn't favoring his shoulder in any way during the bullpen. Having Garcia available for 30+ starts in 2013 is paramount to the team's success.
-- I talked 1-on-1 with all three starters that are competing to replace Carpenter in the rotation, too. Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are all extremely excited by the prospect of starting for this team. They believe competition brings out the best in everyone and this will be no different. All three of them bring something crucial to the table.
-- Kelly's got the most experience - by virtue of coming up and starting half the 2012 season in place of Garcia. Rosenthal's got the best arm - by virtue of throwing over 100 miles an hour consistently out of the bullpen. And Miller probably has the most upside overall - by virtue of his regular appearances near the top of prospect rankings every season. The competition has already begun. Games will determine a lot of what will happen, but you can certainly do a lot before the games begin to enhance your standing. Mike Matheny said the best starter will start. So we'll see what happens.
-- Even though pitchers and catchers were the ones to officially practice, there was one position player continuously making news. Matt Carpenter's possible transition to second base is drawing about as much interest as you can get. He's working privately with Jose Oquendo each day working on the turns and throws and nuances of playing a position he's never played. I talked to Carpenter earlier today and he told me he started working on second base almost immediately after the team lost to the Giants in Game 7 of the NLCS. He said he took a couple days off to mentally recover - physically he was fine - and then he got after it.
-- Carpenter said the hardest part of the move is turning to his right and flipping the ball to second base for the shortstop to turn two. Normally everything he's done has gone toward first base. But at second, you have to do some things backwards, going the other way. That's the part he looked to struggle with the most in drills. The difference between him and Daniel Descalso is quite large in that regard. Descalso - an inferior hitter - looked incredibly smooth in those drills. And he should. He's very good defensively and has done it a long time. Carpenter's brand new to it and is learning. He looked a tad robotic in some of his movements.