A Left-Handed Weekend

If you threw from the sinister side and were a part of the Cardinal roster, chances are you made some news this weekend.

We start with Sam Freeman, who was dealt Saturday to the Texas Rangers.  We’d been talking about something like this for a while now, since Freeman was out of options and the bullpen crunch was pretty noticeable, with only one job possibly up for grabs.  Freeman had a decent camp, though he showed that he still hadn’t conquered his command problems.  Hopefully he can overcome them in Texas, though switching to a different league and a more hitter-friendly ballpark isn’t likely to help him a lot.  Still, the Rangers must be planning to use him since he can’t be sent down, so we’ll root for him to be effective.

The only thing more certain than a Freeman move was the thought that, eventually, we’d be talking about some sort of Jaime Garcia injury.  That came Saturday as well, as the Cards announced they were “hitting the brakes” in relation to Garcia, who was complaining about shoulder soreness.  It’s tough to really know how big a deal this is.  On the more optimistic side, there’s no doubt that Garcia has been going strong for a while now.  He pushed his offseason to be ready earlier than everyone else.  He’s only thrown an official 9.1 innings, but he just threw 80 pitches in a simulated game last week.  Given that he’s coming off a major surgery, it’s not real surprising that all that work is leaving the shoulder sore as it builds up strength.  Garcia says it’s a minor setback, which perhaps it is.

On the other hand, it’s Jaime Garcia.  Nothing ever seems to be a minor setback with him.  He’s coming off surgery for throacic outlet syndrome, which Chris Carpenter never came back from.  Carpenter also could have a run of good outings before hitting a wall.  That wall was usually more solid than those bouncy houses that kids get to play in.  When you mix that in with the general fear that comes along with any Cardinal injury diagnosis, given past history, it’s hard to believe that things are going to be rosy for Garcia in the short-term.  Garcia himself doesn’t know if he’d have to build back up to 80 pitches or could start from there, but either way, it seems to have come at the worst time for him being able to make the Opening Day roster.

Baseball has a way of working out problems.  You have too much depth?  Hey, look, now you don’t.  Garcia’s injury knocks him out of the fifth starter spot that he’d pretty much claimed, leaving it up to Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez.  Both pitched this weekend and did quite well.  Martinez threw Friday in one of the split squad games and allowed just a run on five innings.  Gonzales, adding to the Weekend of Lefties, took Garcia’s spot on Sunday and, while he had trouble early, still went just short of five innings and allowed a run.  Gonzales even was able to score the tying run after singling to lead off the third and scoring on a Jason Heyward triple.

While nothing has been decided, given the fact that the Cards were pushing Martinez for the fifth spot earlier in the year and nothing has really happened in the spring that would change anyone’s mind, Martinez will take that fifth starter spot assuming that Garcia’s injury really is a minor one.  As noted, they don’t really need a fifth starter the first couple of weeks, so they could take an extra hitter and wait on Garcia, but odds are he’s not going to be ready in two weeks.  That’s just a gut feeling, though I imagine many others would tell you the same.  It just seems a lot like Carpenter and when he wasn’t able to go, when he hit setbacks, it wasn’t a short-term problem.  They may delay making the decision, but that’s more because they seem to be interested in taking Ty Kelly north than because they think Garcia is ready to go.

A few of these roster decisions could hang on what happens this week.  For instance, Carlos Villanueva, after having a rough start to the spring, has been pitching much better.  You’ll also note he’s striking out a batter per inning while walking just two this spring.  You could make a case for starting the season with both Gonzales and Martinez pitching for Memphis to stay ready and Villanueva taking that last spot.  I’m not sure that they are going to go that way, but I wouldn’t completely say it’s out of the realm of possibility.  I expect no matter what they do, all of these guys will be in St. Louis at one time or another this season.

We’ll see what happens this week.  Garcia gets reevaluated on Tuesday and that might be the key to making the final roster decisions.  There’s only four more days in Jupiter, one day in Memphis, then a day off before Opening Night.  The season that we’ve been waiting for so long is now right upon us.  There’s not a lot more data you can gather before you take your 25 and you head off to Chicago.  Seeing who those 25 are should make for an interesting week.

Couple of posts coming your way today.  Mid-morning we’ll kick off the UCB predictions project with the American League, then this afternoon we look at Tampa Bay in the Playing Pepper series.  So, in some immortal words, so long for just a while!

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