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A Twist On Survivor: Jupiter

Posted on March 25, 2013 at 6:46 AM
Filed Under: New York Mets | St. Louis Cardinals
Every spring, Derrick Goold follows what he calls Survivor: Jupiter.  He keeps track of who is the last player not to appear in a spring training game.  It's a neat diversion and I think Adron Chambers won this year, though I may be mistaken.

The last few days, it's been the alternate universe version of that harmless diversion.  First, we find out that Jason Motte has a strained tendon in his elbow and will likely start the season on the disabled list.  Then, David Freese, who has been battling back and tailbone issues for a while this spring, will have an MRI today and also may not be ready for Opening Day.  Finally, Carlos Beltran is still suffering from a sore toe where he fouled a pitch off of it earlier in the spring (plus is "drained" from the World Baseball Classic) and his availability is in question.

Is anybody going to be left to go out to Arizona next Monday?

Let's take them one at a time and talk about the ramifications.  Anytime there is elbow trouble on a pitcher, especially one that deals with the heater as a major part of his repertoire, it gets you concerned.  Motte had pitched better of late, including a scoreless inning against the Mets before the injury flared up, and you have to hope it's nothing that's going to keep him out long-term.  Right now the ligament doesn't appear to be damaged--meaning that we don't have to have Tommy John surgery at the forefront of our concerns--but Motte isn't out of the woods yet.

Let's assume--it's dangerous, I know, given the Cardinal history with injuries, but go with the premise--that Motte will be fine and that he'll be back after a few weeks off.  Right now, it looks like Mitchell Boggs is going to move from the eighth inning into the closer role that he held briefly back in 2011.  That wasn't a surprise, but if Boggs stumbles or Motte is out a longer period of time, we may get a chance to see what Trevor Rosenthal can do in the role.

Rosenthal has always (save his stints last year with the big club) been a starter, so I don't know if he has the mindset to go into the ninth yet.  There is no doubt he has the tools, though, and there's going to be a groundswell to get him into that role if Boggs has some rough outings early on.  I would guess Rosenthal might move into the eighth inning unless the club would rather him in the seventh and Edward Mujica in the eighth.  And that assumes they don't use Joe Kelly (because I think Shelby Miller will get the rotation slot) in one of those positions and keep Rosenthal available to be deployed in a host of situations.

While you don't want to see someone like Motte go down and I'm not saying that they'll do just as well without him, the pitching side of things does seem to be able to absorb issues more than the offense can.  The club was trying to figure out what to do with the loser of the Kelly/Miller battle and now they can take them both north for a while and let the competition play out in more meaningful games.  Baseball finds a way.

Baseball also can be a bit capricious.  The old saying is "the ball will find you" if you put an inexperienced guy into the game or someone playing out of position.  That's kinda what happened to the Cardinals this week as well.  They cut Ronny Cedeno (who then went and displaced Tyler Greene as Houston's starter, which tells you a lot about Greene's future) because they thought they had the middle infield taken care of, then the Freese injury flares up and suddenly the middle infield depth is no longer there.  Matt Carpenter will have to move to third, Daniel Descalso will play second, Pete Kozma will be at short and, right now, there's nobody on the bench to back them up.

Obviously, that's going to change.  But how?  Ryan Jackson seems to have become a non-entity in the clubhouse.  Are they going to bring him back to the major league camp after cutting him already?  Greg Garcia hasn't played in Memphis yet--are they going to use him as the backup instead of getting his time in with the AAA club?  Are they calling the Dodgers to work out some sort of time share on Skip Schumaker?

I guess it depends on what the MRI says today.  If it looks like Freese will be out for any extended period of time--which would be the worst case scenario and I don't believe all that likely--then Jackson might get the call (but rarely play).  That way Garcia could continue to develop in the minors.  If they are only looking for a week or so, I could see them bringing up Garcia for a little taste of the big leagues.  It would start his clock, but I don't see that being the issue that it would be for players like Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras.  If I'm reading it right, the Cards only have 38 players on their 40-man roster, so adding Garcia would be technically feasible.

Then there's Beltran.  I think a lot of people would jump to the idea that, if Beltran has to go on the disabled list, that opens up a spot for Taveras.  That's possible, but I'm not sure how likely that is.  Taveras has had a nice spring, but hasn't been overwhelmingly dominant (two home runs, .270/.313/.429).  Having him in the bigs might be nice, but I don't think they add him to the 40-man (as noted above) for just a week or two.  Especially not when they can put Allen Craig in the outfield, Matt Adams at first, and add someone like Adron Chambers to the bench.

Now, if there was the thought that Beltran was going to miss significant time, that might change the equation.  The Cards might think it is worth starting his clock if he's going to play about every day in the big leagues for a while.  That just doesn't seem to be the case, though.  It is difficult to fathom this injury would keep Beltran out of the lineup for more than a couple of regular season weeks.

So, that takes care of the injuries, hopefully.  As deep as this team was starting the spring, it's used up a lot of that already and it can't really afford to tap into it much more.  Perhaps some of these won't be that significant--it will be interesting to hear what the MRI shows today on Freese--but it's not the way you want to end camp.

Blowing a five-run lead in a game during the last week isn't the way you want to end camp either, but the Cards did just that against the Mets yesterday.  Thankfully, though, none of the regular suspects were involved.  The Cardinals finally got Mitch Harris to the mound after five years in the Navy and, as expected with someone that hasn't had a lot of development time, he struggled.  The Cards have been pleased with his progress this spring and they look forward to continuing that in extended spring training this year.

Others involved in the bullpen meltdown were Sam Freeman, who is still recovering from his own shoulder issues and hasn't pitched much this spring, and Fernando Salas, who obviously  will be on the club next week but only allowed one run and with the Mets already ahead.  Not a perfect situation, but not the cause of the comeback.

Then there was Randy Choate.  You know, the left-hander the Cards gave a three-year contract to pretty much only get out left-handers.  That's what a LOOGY does.  Except Choate lately has been a LNOOGY (Left-handed No Out GuY).  Choate has allowed the last six batters he has faced to reach base, five of those left-handers.  He's got no explanation for it and hopefully he can figure it out before the season starts.  Otherwise, the left side of the bullpen is a bit scary.

Minor league rosters will be coming out today, but it certainly appears that Michael Wacha has pitched himself to Memphis.  That's ridiculously impressive given the fact that he's not had a full year in the professional ranks yet.  I know that he was drafted with the idea that he was close to his ceiling, but I didn't expect him to move this quickly.  He still hasn't hit a speedbump, so we'll see how he reacts when he does.  Even so, you have to tip your cap to him and, if he can pitch in Memphis in a similar fashion as he did last year in the minors and this year in the spring, he might be knocking on St. Louis's door sooner than we think.

There's an interesting article on how the Cards are following the "Musial model" when looking for players to bring into St. Louis.  I've noticed how many strong and outspoken Christian people were in the clubhouse and asked both Barret Browning and Jamie Pogue about that during our Conversations.  While the Christian outlook tends to produce those players, that's a by-product of what they are looking for.  The Cards want quality players both on and off the field and it's tough to argue with that.

Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly get one last chance to face off for the fifth starter role today as they take on the Twins.  Both will be trying to up their pitch counts so they may be the only players taking the mound today.  I do think Miller has the inside track, but a good performance today would probably clinch that.

Come back later this morning for the first in the UCB prediction series, taking on the American League.  Then this afternoon, we've got the Tampa Bay Rays as part of Playing Pepper.  Lots to read today!

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Cardinal Nation Approval Ratings (March 2013)
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Rick Ankiel 83.9%
Chris Duncan 69.1%

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