JUPITER, Fla. • Michael Wacha was the surprise of last year’s Cardinals spring training camp, yet was sent to Class AAA Memphis at the start of the season because the organization deemed he needed more experience. But by the end of the year, Wacha was throwing near no-hitters and dominating playoff opponents.
Outfielder Stephen Piscotty, taken by the Cardinals just 17 picks after Wacha in the 2012 draft, is this year’s Wacha.
While Wacha was sharpening himself for his start Wednesday in Cincinnati by working five innings of one-run ball here Thursday, Piscotty was leaving his calling card.
The Stanford product, who hit .342 this spring, doubled and scored a run in the sixth inning, made a good outfield play in the seventh then hit a sacrifice fly as the Cardinals closed their Florida exhibition schedule with a 6-4 loss to Miami.
Piscotty has been told informally that he will be starting the season with the Memphis club. But manager Mike Matheny said that Piscotty will be in the Cardinals’ lineup, not that of Memphis, tonight for the exhibition game.
“The ultimate goal was to hopefully open a few eyes,” said Piscotty, who made a point of praising center fielder Jon Jay for helping the former third baseman on his outfield positioning.
At the plate, the 23-year-old struck out only three times in 38 at-bats.
“I try to have tough at-bats and put the ball in play, no matter what,” Piscotty said. “When I’ve got two strikes on me, I take it personal.”
Piscotty, who has batted .295, .292 and .299 at his three previous stops (Quad Cities, Palm Beach and Springfield), said he was ready for his next challenge at Class AAA.
“There’s no rush in all this,” he said. “The Cardinals have a lot of good players. I’m just trying to make sure that if and when I do make the big-league team that I’m ready to contribute. One of the goals coming to this camp was to get comfortable around the guys in the clubhouse. Hopefully, if and when I do get to St. Louis, it’s not too much of an awe-striking thing.”
Matheny recalled he was “fighting” for Wacha making his club last year out of spring training before amending it to “there was a lot of discussion” about it.
“Obviously, there’s not a fit for Stephen right now, but I would say that’s the only difference,” Matheny said. “We have an outfield that has some very talented players. But the way Stephen ... showcased himself, it’s very similar (to Wacha).
“A lot like Michael, there’s a maturity to him. There’s a professional approach not just to at-bats in a game but in life. He seems very focused on wanting to make the most of this and he’s made a very good impression.”
To the point that Piscotty has handled himself well on and off the field, Matheny said, “I don’t think there’s an arrogance. I think there’s a confidence there. He believes in himself. But he’s certainly smart enough not to say, ‘I belong here.’’’
FINAL BULLPEN SPOT
If the Cards have a weakness, it is in their supplementary relief, i.e., the potential 12th spot on the staff.
Keith Butler struck out Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton, the only batter he faced in the sixth inning.
But newcomer David Aardsma and young Scott McGregor were awful. Aardsma walked two and gave up one hit while retiring just one hitter in the seventh. McGregor allowed all those runners to come home and then two more of his own.
“I think we’re closer” to determining the final pitcher, Matheny said. “But we’re still not going to make a statement.”
EIGHT TO BE SUBTRACTED
The Cardinals will be taking 33 players to Memphis.
“It’s like a horror movie,” cracked utilityman Scott Moore, one of those on the bubble. “You will all go to Memphis. But some of you will not leave there.”
Eight players will be left with the Class AAA franchise, with the other 25 to head for Cincinnati. Matheny said conversations with some already had been held, but the roster trims won’t be finalized until after the game at Memphis.
There are 35 players in camp now and two will remain here and be placed on the disabled list — rehabbing pitchers Jason Motte and Jaime Garcia. Motte will pitch Saturday in a contest at the minor-league level.
Of the remaining 33, there are seven nonroster players, one of which is sure to make the club in reliever Pat Neshek.
That leaves Moore, first baseman Xavier Scruggs, catcher Ed Easley, Piscotty, Aardsma and McGregor as nonroster candidates who could remain at Memphis. Roster players Pete Kozma, Jorge Rondon and Butler also are in jeopardy. One of that group, probably Aardsma or Butler, will make the final 25.
The Marlins beat the Cardinals in all six of their meetings this spring. “Yeah, it’s something we’re very aware of,” Matheny said. .
• McGregor, besides allowing three hits, also threw a wild pitch and hit Miami infielder Ed Lucas in the left hand, with Lucas suffering a non-displaced fracture. He will join former Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (hamstring) on the Marlins’ disabled list. Former Cardinals farmhand Donovan Solano, who was in tears when told he was being sent out, will be brought back now.