It will be a red Tuesday in more ways than one.
As many celebrate Valentine’s Day, St. Louis Cardinals pitchers and catchers will get busy with their first official workout at spring training in Jupiter, Fla.
Run prevention, of course, will be a big deal for the Cardinals, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time in Mike Matheny’s five years as manager.
The Cardinals ranked seventh in the National League in pitching last season, but expect to bounce back with a better Adam Wainwright, continued improvement from ace Carlos Martinez, perhaps a full season of Alex Reyes, the addition of Brett Cecil to the bullpen and the return to the rotation of Lance Lynn.
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As usual, the catching will be handled by future Hall-of-Famer Yadier Molina, coming off a fine offensive season but carrying a chip on his shoulder after playing second-fiddle to San Francisco’s Buster Posey for the Gold Glove Award that had been Molina’s for eight consecutive years.
Eric Fryer, who was with the Cardinals for 24 games last season before they designated him for assignment and lost him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July, returns to St. Louis to back up Molina.
Wainwright, 35, could be the biggest key to the rotation. He logged a career-worst 4.62 ERA and allowed an NL-high 220 hits last season pitching on a left ankle that remained compromised from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered in April 2015.
Wainwright said a month ago that until he regained the strength in the Achilles – which he landed on 3,195 times last season – he didn’t fully understand how weak it was in 2016.
“It starts from the ground up,” Wainwright said of his pitching mechanics. “My land leg would hit (the ground), and my foot was not supported well enough to stick ... and sort of throw through the target and stay in line with my target. Traditionally, that’s my strength.
“Especially at the beginning of the season, when my foot would hit, it would instantly bail out to the left, causing me to fall off real bad. My head would fly out. My arm would be sort of dragging. My fastball location was drastically hindered by that. Those things are in the past. I’m ready to turn the page on that.”
Martinez, 25, has proclaimed an interest in winning the NL Cy Young award and the Cardinals satisfied him a couple of weeks ago with a five-year, $51-million contract extension.
Lynn, 29, is more than 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery and will bring his grit and edginess to the group as well as his occasionally playful postgame demeanor.
Mike Leake, 29, will greatly depend on a tighter defense to improve on his disappointing performance of last season, when he was 9-12 with a bloated 4.69 ERA – not exactly what the Cardinals expected to receive after signing Leake to a five-year, $80-million deal.
Reyes and Michael Wacha will compete for the final spot in the rotation, although Reyes will spend two weeks with the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic.
Reyes, 22, dazzled everyone in the final two months of last season when he was 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 12 games and five starts. But would it make sense for him to begin the year at Class AAA Memphis? Has he done enough to merit a rotation spot?
Much of that determination could depend on Wacha, 25, who was sidelined for more than a month in August and September with a stress reaction in his right shoulder. When he returned in mid-September, he was awful as he yielded 13 runs on 16 hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Wacha seems to be the right-handed version of Jaime Garcia. He has promise. Plenty of potential. A decent track record. The issue is the fragility of his health. Can the Cardinals count on him for 30 starts and 200-plus innings? If they determine they can’t, Reyes is likely to take the rotation spot and Wacha could land in the bullpen.
The Cardinals were aggressive in signing Cecil, 30, to a four-year, $30.5-million free-agent contract after they learned Zach Duke underwent Tommy John surgery. The left-handed specialist has limited lefties to a .226/.281/.344 slash line in eight seasons, and will be relied upon to record important late-inning outs in tight situations.