JUPITER, Fla. – Although the Cardinals lost 5-2 Sunday and have not won many spring training baseball games over the past week, several players say they are moving closer to being ready for the opening of the regular season two weeks from tonight.
Matt Carpenter, who joked he hit his first home run of the spring because his mother and father were at the game, said players don’t want to come out “smoking hot” in the first two weeks of spring because the law of average dictates they will cool off. “You want to get smoking hot the last two weeks,” before you head north, he said.
Carpenter said players have to fight through a little early fatigue in spring and once he got through that, he said he’s been fine. He had a single and double Sunday, displaying the power the Cards need from him.
“My swing has been fine and I’ve been getting in my work. The last two weeks you have to get to that other level” to prepare for the season he said. “You get to that same mindset as the regular season. (Right now) the work is more important than the results. My swing has been good,” he said, noting he wants to get locked-in as he gets closer to opening day.
Newly-acquired shortstop Ruben Tejada played flawlessly in the field and added a hit in his Redbird debut. Matheny said he worked well in the double play exchanges with Jedd Gyorko. Since he played all nine innings Sunday, he will not start Monday, Matheny said, but will get a lot of work in the next few weeks. He only has 19 at-bats this spring, the skipper said.
Pitcher Mike Leake, who looked strong through five fast innings, also said he was getting close to opening day form. “I’m almost there,” he said. “There were a few pitches I would like to have back,” noting that the defense played well to minimize the damage. He said he needed to fine-tune his delivery to be more consistent. Leake threw 69 pitches, 45 for strikes, in surrendering five hits and just one run. He induced two double plays, one of which he started.
After the game, Matheny said Leake threw very well and said he and Yadi are already developing a good chemistry. Leake said he and Yadier Molina are continuing to learn each other and said it may become necessary for the two to have a pre-game meeting in order to synch up properly. He said he feels comfortable with the way Molina calls his pitches, saying he often takes a riskier approach than many catchers in an effort to surprise hitters, a sentiment echoed earlier by Mike Matheny. Leake said Molina’s skill at pitch calling allows him to focus on pitching instead of trying to out-guess the hitter. He also complimented the Gold Glove catcher, saying when he was on the Cincinnati Reds, he admired “how softly” Molina received the pitches and his skill at gently moving borderline pitches into the zone so they could be called strikes.
In other news, Jaime Garcia will not make his scheduled start Tuesday, opting instead to throw his normal 80 pitches in a controlled setting in a minor league game at the Cardinal complex. Garcia and Matheny both stressed that there is nothing physically wrong with the left-hander, saying Garcia wanted more control over what he worked on and whether he was throwing from a wind-up or the stretch. Former Cardinal John Lackey did the same thing last year, Garcia and Matheny noted. The lefty quickly dispelled any notion there was some significant reason why he opted to skip the start and work out on his own, including a question about whether it was because Monday’s game with the Boston Red Sox is nationally televised. “I just wanted more control over what I threw and worked on,” he said. “I take the same approach whether it is a game or throwing out back. I’m getting ready for the season.”
In other news, the Cardinals reassigned three more players after Sunday’s game, bring their roster total to 42. Outfielder Anthony Garcia was optioned to Memphis (AAA) and Jonathan Rodriquez and Patrick Wisdom were reassigned to minor league camp. Matheny said all three performed very well and said Garcia’s performance was especially surprising. “All three were grateful for the opportunity. They wanted the chance to learn and be exposed to big league camp. They made the most of it.”
Matheny will not be with the team for Tuesday’s game. He will be traveling to West Virginia to attend a grandparent’s funeral. Bench coach David Bell will manage the club against the Boston Red Sox.