JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- It initially looked as though Matt Holliday would make his debut at first base Saturday in the Cardinals' third spring training game, but the veteran was scratched from the lineup around noon with back tightness.
Manager Mike Matheny made the announcement, saying Holliday felt tightness in his lower back (something he's dealt with for years) and the team wanted to let him rest.
This winter, Holliday took it upon himself to learn first base so he could be moved there if necessary.
"He and I talked way back in the winter and he said, 'would you see any benefit in me playing first base?'" Matheny recalls. "I said, 'Matt, let's just be honest. That's an extra tool we have in our toolbox, that's an extra tool you have in your tool box for as you move forward in your career. I don't see how it could be anything but positive, I just don't want you to think we're forcing you down that road.'"
He worked all winter and into spring on his technique around the bag, honing his glove and footwork under the tutelage of Jose Oquendo and the existing first basemen. Matheny said he kept things quiet on that front because he was letting his veteran develop at his own pace, and wanted to see how Holliday responded before making the situation more than it was.
"I waited and I waited. He and I would have conversations all the time, but we wouldn't necessarily have conversations about first base. Finally he came up and said, 'so what do you think?' I said, 'I've been waiting for you,'" Matheny said.
The manager asked Holliday what he thought and how he felt, and he got a favorable response.
"He said, 'I like it. I really think if you need me to do that, it's something I can do. I feel comfortable over there,'" Matheny said. "With that, now let's figure out what we have to do to see if it translates into game speed. Some of the things you need to work on you can only do by getting in and playing."
That first test was penciled in for Saturday, but the last minute scratch puts minor leaguer Jonathan Rodriguez in Holliday's place.
On the mound for St. Louis will be Marco Gonzales, looking to reclaim from what was essentially a lost season in 2015. The lefty, coming off a sensational 2014 postseason, spent most of the year trying to recover from a shoulder impingement.
“A lot of lessons to be learned,” Gonzales said in January. “I think everyone can agree on that. Learning this game, learning myself and my character - maybe I just needed to be served some humble pie last year.”
He will be competing for a spot in the Cardinals’ already-crowded bullpen, but would likely begin his year as a starter in Triple-A if no injuries befall the 25-man roster.
Sunday’s start will go to Deck McGuire, a former first rounder signed by the Cardinals to a minor league contract. Next week, Adam Wainwright will throw Monday against the Mets followed by Michael Wacha against the Twins.
Saturday’s game starts at 12:05 Central. Here is the updated lineup: