Baseball gets closer each and every day, even if we add an extra one into the calendar. (Happy Leap Day, everyone.) Wednesday, players wearing the birds on the bat–to be fair, not many that you’d recognize, but still–will take on Florida Atlantic University in the first action of the season. Until then, we continue to read the stories and evaluate the news coming out of camp.
News like Carlos Martinez might not go north with the team to start the season, for instance. It’s not a terribly worrying thing, given that the Cards have three days off in the first 10 days of the season and, as such, wouldn’t need a fifth starter, it doesn’t look like, until the Sunday game with the Reds in Busch Stadium. That being said, it doesn’t let some of the other starters get much rest at the beginning of the year. Adam Wainwright would get six days’ off between his first and second start, but everyone else would be the regular five days. Which, given that they probably won’t be going extremely deep that early in the season, probably is a good thing to get them into their rhythm, but the flip side of that argument is extra rest early could pay off later.
Still, it’s not a bad thing (and it puts a roster spot, even if temporary, into play) and it gives Martinez the extra rest. It’s just….I don’t know. We’re not there, we only can read the stories that are out there, but it seems worrisome, at least a little bit, that Martinez is requiring the extra attention. It seems more precautionary than anything, which would make sense, but when the Cardinals and injuries are in the same sentence, a lot of fans fear the worst. If after being shut down early last season and having the winter off to recover wasn’t enough to fully heal him, it’s troubling. Now, it’s probably more related to the fact that Martinez wasn’t able to do things over the winter and they are just easing him into things, I get that. Still, there’s that nagging feeling that this isn’t going according to plan.
Yadier Molina‘s recovery might be a little more expected. Molina got the pads on recently and did some light catching work. Now, as Tara and I talked about last night on Gateway, it’s very possible Molina just showed up, put on the pads, and went out to catch and nobody knew how to tell him he couldn’t. It seems like it’s a good step, though, and it seems more and more likely we’ll see Molina on the Opening Day roster. He won’t have to hit at first, but if they are content that the thumb is not going to get re-injured, they’ll let him find his stroke in the bigs while he leads this pitching staff.
This time of year, it’s a cliche and running joke to say someone reports to camp in the best shape of their life. (Me, I reported in the biggest shape of my life.) Jhonny Peralta, though, seems to be making the cliche accurate, coming to Jupiter weighing less and with more strength in his legs. We saw Peralta get worn down by the grind last year and he wanted to try to make sure that didn’t happen again in 2016. What will probably help more is someone like Greg Garcia or Aledmys Diaz or Jedd Gyorko being a real option to give him days off so that he doesn’t have to play a month or more straight like he did last year with Pete Kozma the only other shortstop on the roster. If you combine better conditioning with more rest, perhaps Peralta can be an impact player in October this season.
Speaking of Diaz, he’s looked pretty good in the early going, though it’s of course difficult to judge when there’s no actual competition going on, just drills and the like. Diaz still hasn’t hit his prime–he’s 25–and it’d be nice to see him fulfill what the Cards thought they were getting when they signed him to that four-year contract in 2014. Since he signed a major league deal, this will be his last year he can be optioned down, so 2016 is really going to be make or break for him. If he hits like he did after being passed through waivers and taken off the 40-man last year, then the future really is bright for the kid. I’d expect we’ll see a lot of Diaz in the first week or two of games and with every game televised one way or another, we’ll actually get to see a lot of Diaz!
I don’t know what the Cards are going to get out of Matt Bowman, but we know what Bowman does with the cards. The Rule 5 selection from the New York Mets did what I would have done when folks were opening the TOPPS baseball cards, sorting them into team and division. An organized mind is only a benefit in this information age, I would expect, and while Bowman may not be an up-and-coming star, it would seem likely he’d get the most out of what he has with such a mindset. Again, we’ve talked about this bullpen and there doesn’t seem to be a spot for him to fit in, but it’ll be interesting if the Cardinals try to make a trade with the Mets to keep his rights if he does well in the spring.
Backing up to the idea we started this post with, the idea of resting pitchers, Matheny is going to at least address that by starting the main guns later in the spring. I mean, you knew Wainwright wasn’t going to go against Florida Atlantic (as much as those college players would have probably enjoyed facing him!) but it’s interesting to see that the main group won’t go for the first week or so. It might be in line with what the club has done in the past, though I’m not sure. Still, it’s a good sign to see, I think. And it lets Austin Gomber pitch against some of his former teammates, so that’s got to be a thrill for him.
Let’s look at today’s Cardinal Approval Ratings. Up today from the player section is Jaime Garcia. Garcia was one that I wanted to see how his very successful 2015 affected how folks thought of him. He’s been on the ballot three times previously and was in the low 60s twice and then a little shy of 50 last season. This year, with a great year of baseball under his belt, he shot up to 65.3%, which is his highest mark ever. I think that’s proof that most of what goes into these, for most folks, is on-the-field production.
In our media section, today’s subject is Jim Hayes of FOX Sports Midwest. Jim’s goofy demeanor and friendly banter with the players can rub some people the wrong way, but he usually does fine here. In fact, this year’s mark of 70.3% is his lowest since we started asking back in 2011, though I think a lot of that can be tied to the smaller sample size.
Finally, our miscellaneous section looks at the Cardinals’ Internet presence. We talked about that early last year when it came to Twitter and, while the Twitter account seemed to improve somewhat during the year, the interaction with the fans still could seem to use some work. Apparently the folks participating in that thought so as well, because the approval rating of this dropped from the mid 70s from the past two years to 59.4% this year. It’s something that the Cards need to work on, but I think it’s going to take some different viewpoints in places of authority before we see much change.
Playing Pepper continues with the Chicago White Sox this afternoon, so be sure to return for that!