St. Louis Cardinals

Postcard from Florida: Wainwright, NCAA Tournament, roster cuts and “Shooter”

We’re off and running Tuesday morning at Cardinals camp, where once again we are blessed with abundant sunshine and temperatures in the mid- to- upper-80s. Was it really just two weeks ago that we were in the midst of a deep freeze in Illinois?

Good news for the rotation: Manager Mike Matheny just confirmed that Adam Wainwright will make his first spring training start Saturday against Atlanta. Wainwright threw well in a simulated game Monday and appears to have whipped the abdominal strain that has limited his activity.

The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday with a pair of play-in games. Of course, Cardinals players are all over this thing, with basketball being the topic of many conversations in the clubhouse. An informal poll reveals that the biggest hoops junkies on the team are Randy Choate, John Lackey, Nick Greenwood and Mark Reynolds. It’s a great time of year for fans, too, as the NCAA Tournament takes them right into the baseball season.

There were a round of cuts Tuesday morning as the Cardinals optioned left-handed pitcher Tyler Lyons and infielder Greg Garcia to Class AAA Memphis. Two non-roster players, catcher Carson Kelly and infielder Breyvic Valera, also were reassigned. Kelly will report to high-Class A Palm Beach, while Valera will go to Memphis. Lyons, who figures to be in the rotation at Memphis, could be potential trade bait. He has filled in admirably in the rotation, when needed, the last two years. But he is behind all the candidates for the fifth starter’s role, Carlos Martinez, Marco Gonzales and Jaime Garcia. Tim Cooney, who probably is headed for Memphis, also is considered a better prospect than Lyons.

Photographer Derik Holtmann and I met up with Belleville’s Dennis Schutzenhofer this morning. “Shooter” is in his ninth season as a full-time batting-practice pitcher with the Cardinals. Check for a video presentation of the 66-year-old Schutzenhofer, whose passion for the game continues to be the No. 1 reason he gets out of bed every morning. He is a gem.

A interesting topic surfaced Monday after the Cardinals’ 1-0 victory over Detroit. Manager Mike Matheny wants Matt Adams to become a more proficient bunter. Adams? Bunt? Matheny said it is one way to combat the drastic shifts that Adams may see this season. None will be more drastic than the one the Tigers used Monday. If Adams can lay down a bunt between the mound and the third-base line, it will be an automatic hit and could keep the defense honest.

A long first day at camp imposed on the dinner hour Monday, so unofficial restaurant reviews will be postponed until Wednesday. Derik and I are considering a number of dining options for Tuesday night. These Postcards from Florida have been a regular feature of our spring training coverage the last four years, and people seem more interested in where we eat than just about anything else that goes on during our brief stay here. Fascinating.

David Wilhelm