It was the first real weekend of spring. No snow, warmer temperatures, and baseball being played. Many of us got our first glimpse of the boys in red for 2015 on Saturday, when MLB Network ran a delayed broadcast of the Cardinals and Nationals. I only saw a few moments, but it was a wonderful sight nonetheless.
As I said on Gateway to Baseball Heaven last night, this time of year it is very easy to focus on the pitchers, to talk about how they are doing and what their outings looked like. Most hitters are just getting a couple of at-bats here and there and there’s not much of a narrative to put behind such little data. That said, there’s no doubt that Tommy Pham has started to make an impact this spring. Saturday, Pham tallied four hits–which is pretty impressive this early in spring training, because few actually get four at-bats–and Sunday he roped a two-run home run. Which, of course, raises the question on whether Pham can or should be on the major league squad when camp breaks here in less than a month.
Pham’s 27th birthday was yesterday (nice way to celebrate it!) so he’s no spring chicken in baseball standards. He’s been in the organization since 2006, but injuries have kept him from getting the at-bats and experience that you’d expect for a guy that’s been playing ball for nine years. That said, he’s had a season and a portion of another in Memphis. There’s no particular reason to think that more seasoning is required.
But can he crack this squad? That I’m pretty questionable about. It could be that the Cards kept him and sent Randal Grichuk back to Memphis, but Grichuk (who also hit a two-run homer yesterday) brings much more power to the equation. Pham hit 10 home runs in Memphis last year while Grichuk hit 25, plus three more in his big league action. Of course, that’s Grichuk’s bailiwick and Pham brings other skills to the table, but when the Cards are looking at bench players, they may want to have that thump that can come in and pinch-hit. Couple that with the fact that Grichuk is the “incumbent”, as it were, since he saw more big league action last year (and even made the playoff roster) and it would seem unlikely that Pham could unseat him without an outstanding spring. Grichuk is just 23, so a little more time in the minors for him wouldn’t be a major issue. In a camp that has little in the way of competition or things to watch, though, this gives observers something to check box scores for. (BTW, if you want more on Pham, John Nagel, as always, has you covered.)
Still, it’s the pitchers that grab the headlines in the spring, whether they are having good outings or leaving the mound unexpectedly. The latter was how Lance Lynn‘s day ended yesterday, with hip pain cutting his outing a few pitches short and giving Cardinal fans a new issue to worry about. When we’ve talked about the issues with this rotation, health has come up with basically every possible starter save Lynn, so to have him deal with this issue makes folks pause. Lynn laughed it off after the game, saying he’ll be fine, saying he’d have pushed through it in a regular game, but he’ll be examined anyway today to see how severe this injury might be. Hopefully it is as minor as Lynn would make it appear, but I think we’d feel better if he got a clean bill of health.
Thankfully, the Cardinals have options should that not be the case. All three of the competitors for the last spot in the rotation have gone and, while they had varying degrees of success, all seemed capable of filling in should there be a need. We’ve talked about Carlos Martinez‘s outing already, but Marco Gonzales threw two scoreless in his first outing also. Mike Matheny has said Gonzales will get at least another start as he tries to build a case for being in the starting five. Also note that Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons threw two scoreless outings in relief of Gonzales, so that bandwagon is gaining steam as well. I can’t see Lyons getting to start necessarily, but I am hoping he’ll find a bullpen role for this team.
Then there was Jaime Garcia. Garcia wasn’t as sharp as the other two, but he was coming off a much longer layoff. For the first outing after surgery, it wasn’t that bad. Matheny seemed to think Garcia’s non-fastball offerings were pretty impressive, but the fastball command really needed to be worked on. That’s not terribly surprising, given how long it’d been since he’d thrown pitches in competition. If Garcia can continue to harness his control, he makes that competition much more interesting. I think there’s a tough decision coming, one that can’t be resolved as easily as Martinez-Gonzales. We’ll see how Garcia looks in his next start, whether he’s making strides in that direction or not. If he is, it’s an interesting conversation between him and Martinez. While Martinez may have the better stuff, there are a lot of factors in Garcia’s corner as well, which we’ve discussed before at length.
Carlos Villanueva is the only Cardinal pitcher to really have a bad outing this spring, giving up four runs in Saturday’s game. While it’s only one appearance, etc., that’s not the way you settle the doubts many had about Villanueva when the Cards signed him. It would be most likely that all he’s going to be is a reliever, but relievers can’t come in, pour gas on the game, and light a match. There are too many good arms in this system for him to have too many more of these kind of outings, I would think. Yes, many of them are left-handed, but if they can get out folks, that puts them ahead of what we’ve seen from Villanueva so far. That said, it really is just one outing. It could be the worst one of the spring for him and he’ll gradually get better. Seems like Pat Neshek might have had a similar path last season, though I can’t be certain.
Per the Commish, Rick Hummel, the Cards could be a threat to steal more bases this season. Now, granted, over the past two years Torty Craig was a bigger threat on the basepaths than Cardinal runners, so that could be a low bar to clear, and last year there was supposed to be more of a focus on the running game that netted 13 more steals and a move from last to next-to-last by one swipe. Still, Ozzie Smith thinks that Matt Carpenter could be a 20-steal guy and I don’t think any of us are going to argue with The Wizard when it comes to that aspect of the game (or, in reality, pretty much any aspect). Jason Heyward (who is having a nice start to his spring already, by the way) is a 20-steal guy and if Peter Bourjos gets more playing time, we could see him running more as well. As Whitey Herzog said about home runs, maybe this year they’ll catch Roger Maris.
Cardinals get to host the Red Sox today as Allen Craig and Edward Mujica return to face the team they used to play for. Word is Craig volunteered to come, though given his tentative standing with the club, the fact that he gets to play probably had almost as much to do with that as seeing his old friends. No TV today, but it will be on KMOX. Looks like Heyward gets the day off as the Cards have the lineup posted already.
We’ll talk about the Astros in Pepper this afternoon, so come back for that!