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St. Louis Cardinals roster comes together as Wainwright, Wacha shine

Adam Wainwright’s Sunday start looked fairly decent in the box score.

But it was much better in person than the numbers on paper might indicate. And that’s something to be excited about.

The longtime Cardinals ace threw four innings, allowing four hits, two walks and a run. But things would have gone smoother without several poor plays by the defense behind him.

First baseman Matt Adams couldn’t connect with Wainwright twice on grounders and he blew a double-play opportunity when he gloved the ball – and then threw it 10 feet wide of second base into left field. Without those gaffes, Wainwright wouldn’t have allowed any runs, he would have allowed two less hits and he might not have surrendered the walks.

Looking like he has a shot to have the bounceback season he’s hoping for in 2017, Wainwright didn’t allow any balls to be hit particularly hard. He kept most chances on the ground and the balls in the air were of the lazy variety.

So far, about halfway through the Grapefruit League schedule, both Wainwright and fellow starting pitcher Michael Wacha have looked pretty solid.

The Cardinals, rightfully so, had concerns about both hurlers after Wainwright struggled to come back from an Achilles injury that interrupted his 2015 season. Wacha has also struggled to find his form from early in his career before a recurring stress reaction in his shoulder clouded his otherwise bright future.

The best way for St. Louis to surprise its critics is to field dominating starting pitching. The team has a real chance to do that in the upcoming season if Wainwright, Wacha and new ace Carlos Martinez – fresh from signing a new contract extension – are healthy and effective.

While some of the hurlers the Redbirds are counting on have looked good this spring, some on the bubble for a roster spot haven’t looked so hot.

Outfielder turned pitcher Jordan Schaefer was hit hard for a homer and a double Sunday before departing the game – an eventual tie with the Miami Marlins – with an apparent injury. Schaefer’s spring ERA jumped to 9.82 and the lefty will likely have a tough time making the big-league team with new Cardinals southpaw Brett Cecil and returning bullpenners Kevin Siegrist and Tyler Lyons also in the mix from the left side.

Sam Tuivailala blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday to see his ERA balloon to 6.35. When you come into a game to start the ninth inning with a four-run lead and can’t complete the task, it sure doesn’t look good. Tuivailala seems to be running out of chances to impress the coaching staff and the front office. He’s been on the periphery of the major leagues for several seasons now.

Speaking of being on the periphery of the big leagues, Tommy Pham collected two hits in four at-bats Sunday as he tried to solidify his grip on a slot as a reserve outfielder. But he struck out twice and is still hitting only .222 this spring.

Pham’s chief competition, outfielder and first baseman Jose Martinez, was 2-for-3 to raise his average to .400, one of his hits being a flashy triple to right center.

Adams was poor with his glove, but his bat has looked much better after a very weak start. He had two hits including a line-drive homer over the left-center wall to raise his average to .296.

As Matt Carpenter’s troublesome back problem has lingered, I wonder if Adams can convince the team to reconsider its plans to give Carpenter his job.

Shortstop prospect Paul DeJong impressed with a three-run homer and a walk in four plate appearances. But incumbent shortstop Aledmys Diaz probably doesn’t have to worry about his job with a .476 spring average. His Sunday contribution was a two-out RBI single after his leadoff three-bagger that saw him still standing on third after Eric Fryer and Pham failed to advance him.