St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals react to Price’s criticism of Heyward; Garcia back on mound

Jason Heyward and the St. Louis Cardinals weren’t upset Monday despite criticism from Cincinnati manager Bryan Price about Heyward’s hard slide into third base Sunday.

Heyward was thrown out at third in the fifth inning after his double scored Matt Carpenter to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in a game they won 7-5 in 11 innings.

Price called Heyward’s slide “dirty,” even though Heyward was tagged out by Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier on a relay from second baseman Brandon Phillips.

“Something happned at third base with Heyward,” Price said, unprompted by reporters. “I thought that was a bad slide there. I thought that was a dirty slide and I didn’t like that at all. He’s not a dirty player, but I just thought it was a bad slide and a dirty slide.”

Heyward said before the Cardinals’ home opener Monday that his only interest was to take the Reds’ focus away from trying to throw out Carpenter at the plate.

“That’s the way I play baseball, as far as running and trying to (be aggressive),” Heyward said. “I just tried to make sure we got that run home.

“It’s a smaller field there. The ball was hit pretty hard in the corner and they had a great relay. I watched the replay and saw Brandon look to throw it home, and he was like, ‘No, we’re going to take this other out.’ That’s kind of what I wanted: Take the attention away from the play at the plate. I still think Carp would have made it, but I didn’t want to leave any question.”

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Price reacted like most managers would under similar circumstances.

“A manager’s got to stick up for their guys if they think something’s happened,” Matheny said. “I’m going to say that it was a late, hard slide, but I also saw that he ended up right on top of the base. I don’t even think he expected there was going to be a play made at third. It kind of caught him at the last minute off-guard.

“It was a hard, late slide. I understand where the opposing manager would be coming from, but I also understand where Jason’s coming from and I support him.”

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said Price’s comments “surprised me.”

“Think about the play itself,” Mozeliak said. “Heyward probably didn’t even think there was going to be a play (at third). They were most likely going to go home, right? More importantly, Brandon Phillips made a very heads-up play and throws a strike to third, and (Heyward’s) coming in hard. He’s also a big guy. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that slide.”

Mozeliak took into account that Price’s comments came immediately after the loss. The Reds led 5-3 in the eighth and had opportunities to win in extra innings.

“It could have been a lot of emotion,” Mozeliak said.

Garcia update

Injured left-hander Jaime Garcia, sidelined with a shoulder injury after thoracic outlet syndrome surgery last season, threw a bullpen Sunday at extended spring training in Jupiter, Fla., and will repeat the process Wednesday before facing hitters Friday.

“He’s progressing well,” Mozeliak said. “It’s two-fold. One is recovery, and I would also say, it’s (about) volume.

“As you saw in spring training when Jaime was throwing, he seemed to do very well when he was in that 30-, 40-pitch range. But when that started to expand is when things got a little more difficult for him.”

Mozeliak explained that the Cardinals had to push Garcia every five days in spring training to determine whether he was a viable option for the rotation. That no longer is the litmus test.

“Here, if he starts to have a regression, we can take a step back and be more patient,” Mozeliak said. “But in spring training, we had to really test him to see if he would be ready to go, so there is a difference. He could be a long (-relief) man, but I still think his goal is to try to get back to be a starter, and that’s how he wants us to push him.”

Opening Day vibes

Matheny said Opening Day in St. Louis is “special.”

“Everybody has their own traditions for Opening Day. It just seems like it’s a little bigger than that here and a little deeper as far as things that have been going on for a long time,” Matheny said. “We look forward to it. We love playing in front of this crowd, too. It’s been a long time since we’ve been here. It’s great to be home.”

Matheny said he doesn’t change his pregame routine on Opening Day, although the on-field festivities alter his schedule slightly.

“I jump right back into video and stats and start planning meetings and figuring out how we can have our best shot at the Brewers here,” Matheny said. “I do allow myself to enjoy watching the Clydesdales, watching the Hall of Famers come through. And how many people get to ride around in front of 40,000 people and have them cheer.”

Mozeliak said in addition to the energetic atmosphere at Busch Stadium, players enjoy St. Louis because it’s an “easy city.”

“You don’t think about ridiculous traffic. It’s easy to get in and out of,” Mozeliak said. “(But) the No. 1 thing I hear is just the support they get. The fans love you if you do well here. They absolutely worship you if you do great here. It’s an environment that’s very inviting if you’re a player.

“From an Opening Day standpoint, if you’ve never experienced it here, I think you’ll realize how welcoming it can be. But more importantly, it’s not like this in other places. We’re very lucky to have this environment.”

Cruz rejoins team

Backup catcher Tony Cruz was back with the Cardinals on Monday. Cruz was on paternity leave during the series against Cincinnati.

Ed Easley, who did not see action while Cruz was gone, was sent back to Class AAA Memphis.

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