Back on the Field

This weekend, baseball returned.  Not in its fully-formed version, of course; plenty of players out there with high numbers and unfamiliar names.  However, we heard Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton or John Rooney and Mike Shannon talking about actual game situations, a beautiful thing after the longest offseason in five years.

This weekend was a bit like Whose Line Is It Anyway, in that the names sometimes felt made up and the stats didn’t matter.  It wasn’t fun to see Seung-hwan Oh allow two homers in an inning of work, but nobody with any degree of sense was going to say the sky was falling.  It was a little more worrisome, if you are rooting for him, to see Matt Adams go 0-6 with four strikeouts over the two games against the Marlins, but the only people that are writing him off after that sample are the same people that had him written off before he came into camp.  They may be right, but these two games don’t prove that.

What was good to see on Saturday was a little manufactured baseball and a taste of what life might be like with Dexter Fowler at the top of the lineup.  In the first inning, Fowler walked, stole second, moved to third on a long fly ball, and scored on a Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly.  Just like Whitey Herzog would have drawn it up.  (Here’s a possibly heretical opinion–I think at times there’s too much emphasis placed on “returning to Whiteyball”.  While the basics are sound still–moving runners, making plays–speed is not nearly the game-changer that it was back in the ’80s.  I like to see some stolen bases, but I wouldn’t want to see a team full of jackrabbits in this modern power age.)

I also saw Tommy Pham steal a base on Sunday.  I couldn’t tell you when I saw back to back games with a Cardinal purloining a bag.  I don’t know if this is a change in philosophy that will continue throughout the year or just a bit of a coincidence as players and managers try out things early in the spring when it doesn’t matter if it works or not.  If it is going to continue, I do hope it’s still smart stealing.  Mike Matheny‘s “be aggressive out there” strategy wasn’t all that effective last year and I’d rather them stay at first than go careening into an out.

Someone we didn’t see the first two days was Kolten Wong, who apparently isn’t 100%.  Wong is still dealing with inflammation in his shoulder relating to the spill he took on the wet Wrigley Field outfield grass last season in his one game out in left field.  (Whether he should have been out there or not probably depends on your view of the manager.)  It’s not the first time the Redbirds have lost someone in that kind of situation–Eli Marrero got a nasty ankle sprain in 2003 in a game that was eventually called on account of conditions.  Marrero was lost in early May, didn’t return until September expanded rosters, didn’t start back to back games until the last week of the season, and was out of the league three seasons later (after being part of the Adam Wainwright trade).  He did have a good 2004, so you can’t blame all of that on that one injury, but it surely didn’t help.

Will Wong be that way?  It doesn’t sound like it, though while the doctors have told him surgery is a “not yet”, they’ve not ruled it out.  It’s a little concerning that a winter of rest didn’t solve the problem.  Wong says that he can play through pain and I expect we’ll see him in one of the split squad games today, but how is that going to affect him both in the field and at the plate?  Ballplayers play through pain all the time, of course, as nobody is 100% after the first game of the year, but there are levels to that.  Given Wong has a lot of eyes on him, given his past history of inconsistent play, this is the last thing he needed.  Hopefully it won’t be a major detriment to him this season, but with a Cardinal and injury in the same sentence, you rarely expect positive news.

(Derrick Goold’s story said that Wong expected to play Sunday, which he didn’t.  If he doesn’t play in one of the games today, I think the level of concern has to increase a little bit.)

The Cardinals returned to the international market this weekend, signing Jose Adolis Garcia to a contract with the expectation that, sometime this season possibly, he’ll be a quality fourth outfielder for the club.  John Mozeliak touted Garcia as a five-tool player, someone able to do a lot of things well.  He was MVP in Cuba last season, though he struggled when he played in Japan.  Garcia can’t play with the club for a couple of weeks while he does all the things necessary to get his work visa, but it’s going to be interesting to see him later on in the spring and see just how close to the major leagues he really is.

This can’t have been great news to hear if you are Tommy Pham, however, given that Pham is currently the fourth outfielder.  (Unless the organization sees Jose Martinez ahead of Pham on the depth chart, which is always possible.  They’ve held on to Martinez for reasons I’ve not been able to fathom, but they know a lot more than me.)  Pham has never had much of a vote of confidence from the Cardinals as a whole, it doesn’t feel like.  Granted, some of that is his own doing in a way, since he’s been injured so much that it’s difficult for the club to fully commit to him when they don’t know if he’ll be there when they need him.  However, Pham’s shown some skill at the big league level and you’d think that might have earned him some goodwill.  It probably has, but it also feels like whenever Garcia is ready, the club won’t hesitate to swap him in for Pham.  What that will mean for where Pham plays later on this season is something to think about.

Cards play the Nationals in Jupiter and the Red Sox up in their park today, with Lance Lynn going against the Nats and Michael Wacha against the Sox.  With both of these guys, we’re going to want to see their first steps after dealing with injury last year.  Again, it’s the first start and you can’t read a ton into it, either good or bad, but let’s hope there’s a couple of strong outings coming our way today.

Oh, and if you missed it, Tara and I started a new chapter in the history of Gateway to Baseball Heaven.  You can find us here and the feed has been submitted to iTunes and Google.  We’d appreciate your ears!

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