PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets outfielder Andres Torres drove in three runs and Pete Kozma's error in the seventh helped the Mets to three more as the Cardinals lost 8-6 on Tuesday at Digital Domain Park.
The Cardinals held a one-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh inning. That was when a broken-bat groundball led to some sloppy defense and the winning runs for the host Mets.
Matt Adams provided the bulk of the Cardinals' runs with a grand slam over the left field wall. Adams had the first hit of the spring for the Cardinals on Monday. On Tuesday, Adams had the first homer for the Cardinals in Grapefruit League play.
Adams is 2-for-4 with the single, homer and four RBIs through two games.
The late innings were marked by the Grapefruit League debut of teen outfielder Oscar Taveras, considered by some to be the top position prospect in the Cardinals' system. Taveras, 19, hit better than .380 in the Midwest League last season. He came with the Cardinals on this road trip after spending the past week at the select mini-camp the Cardinals hold for prospects.
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Taveras entered the game in right field in the eighth. He led off the top of the ninth inning and grounded out to first base.
In the ninth, the Cardinals also called back a new hitter to counter a new pitcher, a lefty, with a righthanded batter. Zack Cox, a lefty, was announced as the hitter but did not take the at-bat when the Mets brought in lefty Josh Edgin to finish off the game.
Error boosts Mets back into the lead
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Former first round pick Pete Kozma misplayed a grounder into what could have been two errors in the bottom of the seventh inning. He was credited with only one.
That was enough to allow the Mets to retake the lead after first baseman Matt Adams had given the Cardinals the lead in the top half of the inning by launching a grand slam.
The Cardinals trail 8-6 through seven innings.
The game was going to offer Mike Matheny some intriguing decisions headed into the late innings. He had Kyle McClellan set for the eighth inning and, presumably, Fernando Salas assigned for the ninth. They would get a one-run lead to protect. It was later in spring training that Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa would use pitchers in such situation-specific moments, but that's also just how the game played out for Matheny. The righties figured to benefit from early exposure to late-inning, lead-holding duties.
That scenario didn't play out.
Adam Reifer, a hard-throwing righty, drew the seventh inning. Against Aderlin Rodriguez, Reifer got a busted bat and a slow-rolling grounder. Kozma charged. He had difficulty getting the ball on a clean hop. He tried to look toward second for the force out before he had a grip on the ball. When he then regained control and started toward first, the ball slipped on him again and his throw bounced into shallow right field. Kozma received only one error on the play -- for the throw.
Adams' slam launches Cardinals into lead
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Strapping first baseman Matt Adams, the top power prospect in the Cardinals' system, pounded a two-out, bases-loaded homer over the left-center fence to hoist the Cardinals back into the game this afternoon.
Adams, a lefthanded hitter, lofted a pitch from Jeurys Familia through the wind and out of Digital Domain Park.
The four-RBI blast flipped the score and gave the Cardinals a 5-4 lead through 6 1/2 innings. It is their first lead of spring training.
Adams, as mentioned below, was the Texas League player of the year in 2011. He led the league with 32 homers and he had 101 RBIs in 115 games. Adams took a brief run at a Triple Crown in the hitter-friendly league before settling at .300 for the season. That was good enough to win the Cardinals' player of the year award.
It was also good enough for two scouts with opposing teams to compare Adams to Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Oh, and it caught Mike Matheny's attention.
As the Cardinals plotted out playing time this spring, Adams figured to be the beneficiary of time at first base on days that Lance Berkman doesn't start and during games that Berkman only plays the first half. Adams started at first base Monday, and this afternoon he's Matt Holliday's replacement at designated hitter.
Erik Komatsu, the Cardinals' Rule 5 pick, followed Adams' homer with a shot into the teeth of the wind coming from right field. Komatsu's shot fell just shy of the wall and bounced over for a ground-rule double.
Holliday had a similar shot knocked down by the wind.
"I don't think any ball hit in Florida is a homer," Holliday deadpanned when asked if he deserved one. "It would have been in Arizona."
Westbrook, Santana talk about their first starts
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For vastly different reasons, the two starters for this afternoon's Grapefruit League game between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals were looking for the same results.
They both just wanted to feel good during their first start.
Jake Westbrook, coming off a season during which he struggled with his mechanics and his command, wanted to have the sensation of improved arm strength and control of his stuff. Mets' lefty Johan Santana wanted to have faith in his surgically rebuilt arm and show improved strength.
Both got their wish.
"First one, I'm really looking for how I feel," Westbrook said. "I feel really good. Obviously the walks are not something I want to continue to be a pattern. The way I felt and the stuff I had was pretty good."
Westbrook threw 30 pitches, 15 of which were strikes. He walked a couple batters, and he fell behind in the count to a couple more. In several occasions, he was able to rally in the count by getting his sinker over the plate for a quick groundball. Two of his outs in the second inning came on grounders. Two of his six outs overall came on strikeouts.
"That's kind of the way I do things," Westbrook said of the quick grounders. "Even if I miss a little bit I can get back to being aggressive and kind of continue to work that sinker down in the zone and hopefully get the groundballs that I need."
Santana said he went out to test all of his pitches. He was able to throw in the 86 mph to 90 mph zone, and Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said seeing the pitch at 87 mph was probably a sign of the velocity yet to come. Santana had his famous changeup working as well.
Asked about the changeup, catcher Yadier Molina said: "I didn't see it."
Told that Santana insisted he threw one.
"He threw me one, I just didn't see it," Molina explained. "He had me fooled."
Santana threw 29 pitches, 17 of which were strikes.
He fiddled with a few sliders to lefthanded hitters late in his outing to see if that pitch would work for him again. He feels strong enough to try, and that's what the Mets wanted to see.
"That's what we're looking for," Santana said. "The way I feel right now and the way I felt during the game today it was good. It's a good sign."
Hamilton drives Cardinals to first two runs
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- An alarming drop in power production in 2011 has put Mark Hamilton, once a power prospect at first base, in an odd spot entering this spring training.
He's at position that is suddenly open for the Cardinals in the position. He had held the top spot on the depth chart at first base for several years. But last year, Matt Adams leapfrogged him be by winning the organization's player of the year and the Texas League player of the year awards.
Hamilton has had to reinvent himself. He'll get a look in the outfield this spring. He'll get some playing time between Lance Berkman and Adams at first base early in the spring.
But none of that matters as much as his swing.
Reconnecting with the power that failed him last season -- after a 20-homer season, he hit only two last summer -- is something that Cardinals are looking for this spring. Hamilton has started his spring with a couple hits today. He drove in the Cardinals' first run with an RBI double in the fifth inning. He scored on a groundout to cut the Mets' lead to 4-2 at the time.
Entering the top of the seventh, the Mets have added a run off lefty reliever Sam Freeman to lead 5-2.
Mets jump Linebrink to extend lead
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It's spring training so everything relative. It's Mike Matheny's first spring training as a manager so everything is noteworthy.
Those two truths clashed in the fourth inning.
In his first game as manager (Monday in Jupiter), all of the pitching changes were scripted and all of them were made during the natural break of the innings.
Today, for the first time in his career as manager, Matheny had to walk to the mound from the dugout in the fourth inning today to make a mid-inning pitching change. Young righty Maikel Cleto had reached the end of his pitch count with a walk to the No. 9 hitter. With leadoff man Andres Torres coming up, the timing was right to go to the first righty reliever of the day.
In came veteran Scott Linebrink.
On the third pitch Linebrink delivered, a 1-1 belt-high pitch, Torres jumped him for a bases-clearing triple. The Mets now lead 4-0. A first for Matheny wasn't something to fret over for Linebrink.
What figures to be the tightest competition in camp this spring is the derby for the right side of the bullpen. Linebrink is the leading contender of the non-roster invites. He had a strong year in Atlanta last summer, and he's the veteran presence that Cardinals openly said they wanted to add this past winter. He'll have the opportunity to elbow out one of the young righties with options.
Kyle McClellan will soon enter this game as he tries to define his spot in the bullpen. Fernando Salas is also set to pitch as he does both -- attempts to secure a job, and attempts to secure a specific job.
Matt Carpenter gets first taste of windswept right field
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Digital Domain Park is located on a flat, wind-swept plot of land not too far from Interstate 95 that is less than an hour north of Jupiter, Fla.
It can be a great place to hit when the wind is blowing out.
It can be an awful place to field when it's blowing in.
Ike Davis, who catapulted a blast up into the jet stream last year at this ballpark (the shot cleared the food-sales pavilion out past right field), launched a similar blast moments ago off Maikel Cleto. But the wind is coming in today, and a shot that first sent right field Matt Carpenter back to the warning track had him racing, racing, racing in to see if he could catch the ball midway up the foul line.
Carpenter is a novice outfielder. He's out there today -- as mentioned toward the bottom of this blog -- trying to prove his versatility. An athletic third baseman by nature, Carpenter has the speed to recover on such a ball.
And despite a wind that is bending liners and pushing around fly balls he was able to run in and make the catch for the final out of the third inning.
The Mets took a 1-0 lead in that inning on a sacrifice fly. The run goes in the books as unearned against Cleto, but it was the righty that caused himself the trouble. Cleto misfired on a pickoff throw to first base and allowed Andres Torres to race from first to third base. That put Torres in position to score on Valdespin's fly ball to center.
Scott Linebrink, the veteran, is warming up for the Cardinals.
The first out of the fourth inning was a more traditional fly ball to right -- hard hit, but caught by Carpenter.
Westbrook walks through a couple workmanlike innings
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In what might be one of the bigger contrast of spring training, the Mets have turned the mound over to knuckleballer R. A. Dickey while the Cardinals have called on young righty Mikael Cleto, the spoil from the Brendan Ryan trade.
Dickey flutters a ball up there that throws off a hitter's timing.
Cleto fires at 97 mph and throws off a hitter's sense of safety.
During a live batting practice round Cleto pitch earlier this spring, no righthanded-hitting teammates would step in the cage against him.
Cleto's entry means Jake Westbrook's exit. The sinkerballer allowed one hit through two scoreless innings. Less appealing than the line was how he got there. Westbrook threw 30 pitches, 15 of which were strikes. He walked two batters. But when he needed them he also got groundballs. Shortstop Ryan Jackson had two routine plays in the second inning to get two of the outs for Westbrook. The Cardinals' righty faced eight batters.
Three reached, but not one runner got to second safely.
With help from defense, Westbrook through first
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla • It wasn't necessarily the grounded start to his spring that sinkerballer Jake Westbrook probably wanted but it was a scoreless inning, and he did give catcher Yadier Molina an opportunity to remind the New York Mets that Jose Reyes might be gone but he's still not going to give up second base.
The second batter of the inning for Westbrook, Mets second baseman Jordany Valdespin, skipped a groundball single up the middle.
While designated hatter Jason Bay worked the count to 2-2 against the rigthy, Valdespin took off for second base. Reyes, who signed this winter with the Marlins, used to keep score about his success against Molina. He talked about doing it in -- or at least testing Molina during -- Grapefruit League play. Reyes is now running at Roger Dean Stadium. Valdespin tried to fill those cleat marks.
Molina got him by a step with a clean throw to Skip Schumaker near second base. It was the first caught-stealing of the spring for the Cardinals' Gold Glove-catcher.
Westbrook threw 16 pitches in the first inning. Nine were strikes. He walked Bay on a full-count ball, and he allowed the one hit.
The score is tied 0-0 after one.
In the second, Mark Hamilton lined a single for the Cardinals' first hit of the game. Warming up in the Mets' bullpen is R.A. Dickey, a knuckleballer who could give the Cardinals fits with the wind blowing in at DigiDom Park.
Santana's comeback starts vs. Cardinals
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. • The Miami Marlins invested a record dose of millions this offseason to field a team befitting a posh (and slightly deco quirky) new downtown ballpark. The Washington Nationals improved their pitching staff with health and acquisition. The Philadelphia Phillies are the Phillies, and the Atlanta Braves insist they have survived the fallout from last September's meltdown.
All around the New York Mets, opponents improved or stayed the course. They lost two of their most talented hitters -- one by trade, one to free agency -- and their top reliever.
But, hey, Johan Santana will be back.
To remain relevant in the division, they will him to be more than healthy.
Santana starts today for the Mets, appearing in a major-league (level) game for the first time since 2010. Surgery erased his 2011 season, and injuries have often complicated his time with the Mets. Santana is set to throw about two innings opposite Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook this afternoon at Digital Domain Park here north of Jupiter, Fla. This is the lineup that will start behind the lefty:
1. Andres Torres, CF
2. Jordany Valdespin, 2B
3. Jason Bay, DH
4. Ike Davis, 1B
5. Justin Turner, 3B
6. Josh Thole, C
7. Adam Loewen, LF
8. Mike Baxter, RF
9. Ronny Cedeno, SS
Pitcher: LHP Johan Santana.
Some dot-dot-dot notes from the Cardinals this morning: Manager Mike Matheny said it was "highlighter error" that had Lance Berkman and Daniel Descalso advertised as coming on this road trip. Neither were scheduled to start today. Berkman is easing into games cautiously, and he won't be expected to start until Thursday. Descalso is going to Viera, Fla., on Wednesday to start that game and Matheny wanted to separate the road trips this week. ... Joining the major-league team today are three players from the prospect mini-camp. Top position prospect Oscar Taveras is on the bench and could play in the game. Infielder Greg Garcia and outfielder Kyle Conley are on the trip as well.
Matt Carpenter is set to get a test in right field this afternoon. DigiDom Park is a tricky, windy and often unfriendly place for outfielders. Carpenter is going to have to play a lot of different positions if he plans to make the major-league team as a bench player. Matheny said he sees him as capable to play either corner outfield positions and either corner infield positions.
Though Carpenter was mentioned last year as a possibility -- for a few innings -- at shortstop, Matheny said the lefthanded-hitting utility fielder will most likely see only time at the corners. He's got a first baseman's glove in his bag, Matheny said.
"He has that glove in there," Matheny said, "and he needs to."
* * *
World Series MVP David Freese, a non-starter for the opener, will be getting his first at-bats of spring today. Versatility is also the theme for the Cards' lineup.
Skip Schumaker moves from right field (where he started yesterday) to second base for his first appearance in the infield of the exhibition season. Taking his spot in right is Matt Carpenter, the third baseman who has been working this spring to prove he can play elsewhere — and thus make the team as a valuable bench player. Carpenter had a two-run double in the Cardinals' ninth-inning rally Monday. They lost 4-3 to the Miami Marlins in manager Mike Matheny's debut.
Jake Westbrook starts for the Cardinals with Maikel Cleto as his backup. The power-armed Cleto is a reliever at the major-league level, but it will be worth seeing how the Cardinals condition him to start alongside Shelby Miller in Class AAA this summer.
The lineup for the Cardinals (0-1):
1. Shane Robinson, CF
2. Skip Schumaker, 2B
3. Matt Holliday, DH
4. David Freese, 3B
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Mark Hamilton, 1B
7. Matt Carpenter, RF
8. Ryan Jackson, SS
9. Adron Chambers, LF
Starting pitcher: RHP Jake Westbrook. Followed by: RHP Maikel Cleto, LHP Sam Freeman, RHP Adam Reifer, RHP Kyle McClellan, RHP Fernando Salas, RHP Scott Linebrink, RHP Adam Ottavino, RHP Chuckie Fick.
Something to watch for as we bring you live blog updates throughout the game here at C-Beat is the performance of the righty relievers. It's early, yes, but six righthanded members of the 40-man roster could pitch out of the bullpen today and as many as six could find a way to make the major-league roster or leave an impression that puts them in the big leagues at some point during the 2012 season.
That's a crowded place out there and while second base may get the attention because it's a starting job, the right side of the bullpen may quietly be the most competitive spot on the roster.