JUPITER, Fla. — Spring training on Wednesday didn’t extend any farther than the outfield grass on Field 1 here at the Cardinals’ complex. But there was baseball activity, of a sort.
There was rehabbing righthander Jordan Hicks playing catch with ... yes, manager Mike Shildt, who was trying to stay active before going on a long walk around the back fields. "He was good," said Hicks.
Harrison Bader was throwing. Tyler O’Neill and Kolten Wong put in a session in the weight room.
Hicks, still on the road back from Tommy John elbow surgery of last year, said he would come to the complex “as long as this is open.”
But Wong said, “We don’t know how long we’ll be able come here — if they put a quarantine on us.”
And there was righthander Miles Mikolas playing catch from 90 feet with head athletic trainer Adam Olsen. Mikolas is rehabbing from a flexor tendon strain in his right forearm, which necessitated a platelet-rich plasma injection. But, sure to have missed the opening day roster before the coronavirus pandemic halted all sports, Mikolas could be on that roster now.
Mikolas, granting an interview after he was done throwing, smiled and said, “Sidewalk. Six feet. But I’m a loud talker.”
What he had to say made some sense.
“I guess I’m in a unique situation where I was on a slow-buildup throwing program anyway, so what this does is allow me not to miss any time," he said.
“Where I am now and where I’m going ... once the season starts, I figure I’ll be able to help my team from the get-go, which is a comforting thought to me not having to watch the guys play without me.
“Mid-spring training around the league, a handful of guys are looking at this like it stinks to not be playing, but we get a chance to help our teams from the start of the season. If we’re not going until mid-May or June, I’ll be there suiting up. I’m excited for it.”
Every other day, Mikolas is playing catch, gradually extending his distance and “and able to put a little bit behind it. Then, I’m working out in between, keeping my lungs strong and keeping my legs under me.
"One step at a time until we get some word on this. Guys are doing their best to stay in shape. Once we get a spring training 2.0 schedule, we’ll be ready to go.”
Mikolas, in the first year of a four-year, $68 million contract, will have to be creative when it comes time for him to face hitters. But he does live in Jupiter and always has.
“It depends on where we are,” he said. “If we’re here (at the complex), it may be just bullpen sessions, with guys getting looks (standing in the batter’s box). We’ve got catchers — (Andrew) Knizner, and Yadi (Molina) lives here. I’ll be happy to get them ready by them looking at some live pitches. I imagine we’ll set it up out here or in the batting cage.”
If Mikolas has to go somewhere else, he said, “It wouldn’t be hard to find guys. I’m sure I could put out a tweet or an Instagram thing and have a dozen guys at a field tomorrow. I guess it would be have to be nine guys because you’re not supposed to have more than 10 guys (in one place).
"But if you’re outside on a baseball field, you’re not really within six feet of anybody anyway.”
From a life standpoint, people everywhere are having to adjust and Mikolas knows and understands that.
But he said, “I’m constantly looking for a silver lining in any situation and there’s a couple in this situation. I’m rehabbing anyway, so this will help me get ready to help my team as soon as we can go. And there’s a little more quality time with the family.
“We’re in the pool every afternoon. The kids (he has a three-year-old and twins who are 20 months) love it. We’re just kind of hanging out. We’re getting a lot of stuff done.
“People aren’t working anymore, so you’re going to see two weeks of people not getting much social contact. And two weeks of people getting a lot of stuff done at home.
“Like walking the dog. I’ve got to figure out how to get my dog to run next to me if I’m on a skateboard or riding a bike.”
Mikolas said his dog was an Irish doodle. “She’s six months old and she’s faster than me anyway,” joked Mikolas.’’
There also is fishing to be done.
“I know the big mahi start running soon. And the sea turtles are starting to catch. The fishing is about to get real good,” Mikolas said.
“I’ve sold my boat already but I’ll be fishing in the lake behind my house."
Answers to spring questions about Cards
1. HOW THE HECK WILL THEY SCORE MORE RUNS?
Paul DeJong, who hit just .233 last season and .193 with men in scoring position although he banged 30 home runs, was conclusive this spring that he belonged in the middle of the lineup. More tellingly, he displayed the abilities of a No. 4 hitter, with his nearly 1.000 slugging average to complement his .464 batting average. After a year’s work with hitting coach Jeff Albert, DeJong and the coach appear on the same page. It isn’t that No. 3 hitter Paul Goldschmidt necessarily needs protection, it’s that DeJong appears to have reached the next level in what will be his fourth big-league season.
However . . .
If DeJong hits fourth — behind Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Goldschmidt — what happens behind DeJong? This spring, not much. Dexter Fowler, projected as a No. 6 or 7 man, had an .097 batting average and one of his three hits was a checked-swing infield single in his final spring game. Tyler O’Neill had seven hits but twice as many strikeouts in 32 at-bats. And Harrison Bader has 14 strikeouts and eight hits in 33 at-bats. Even Yadier Molina, who never strikes out, whiffed 11 times in 33 at-bats. He gets the benefit of the doubt. The others, not yet.
2. CAN CARPENTER HAVE A 'COMPLETE RENAISSANCE?
It’s too early to tell if Matt Carpenter is all the way back, but his final two days of spring plate appearances showed something. He had three walks and an opposite-field homer off two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom in his last five trips to the plate. Carpenter was intent this spring about hitting the ball the other way instead of banging his head against the shift.
Carpenter was stung, and apologetic, about his lightweight .226 season in 2019 and was walking around with a confidence this spring that he didn’t appear to have last year and that he knew something this spring that everybody else didn’t.
It would seem that when Carpenter hits second in the lineup, he may have some more honest defenses deployed against him if leadoff man Wong, a threat to steal, is on base.
3. WHO'S LEFT IN THE OUTFIELD AND CAN CARLSON CRACK THE LINEUP?
Twenty-one-year-old Dylan Carlson was a Grapefruit League eye-popper for the first two weeks of spring training but tapered off toward the end, going nothing for his last eight. He still had a better spring than his leading competitor, Tyler O’Neill, although Lane Thomas made a late bid and hit three homers, two in his last four games besides walking five times in those games.
Perhaps significant of something, Tommy Edman, who rarely has played left field since he joined the Cardinals last summer, got the start there on Thursday in what proved to be the final game of this spring. Another outside candidate, lefthanded-hitting Justin Williams, showed occasional pop but hit .143. Newcomer Austin Dean, acquired from Miami as a Triple-A player capable of providing protection at the position, left his calling card with a .931 OPS with four doubles and two homers among his eight hits in 32 at-bats. He may be more than a Class AAA player.
But . . .
This position will remain up for grabs when camps resume much later this spring. As for right field, Fowler needs to show a bit more the second time around before automatically ceding that job to him. He hit .097 in the “first” spring training.
4. WHERE WILL MARTINEZ START, OR FINISH?
Despite a rocky final start in which he was tagged for five runs in 3 2/3 innings, righthander Carlos Martinez and his fragile right shoulder held up for the duration of camp and he showed he again could be a member of the rotation after two years out of it. The club hopes he works as hard in the current offseason as he did in the real one. But he looks appreciably stronger.
An old bugaboo returned in his final start when Martinez seemed not to be ready for the first inning and quickly gave up two runs in an inning he started by hitting one batter and nearly plunking another before walking him. He threw as high as 96 mph but only after a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux. Whether Martinez can “focus,” as he likes to say, for an entire game, let alone an entire season, remains to be seen.
But what was seen enough was that he will be in the rotation at the start of the season rather than at the back end of the bullpen, where he had 24 saves last year.
5. WILL EDMAN LEAD THE 'BENCH MAFIA' OR LEAVE IT?
So far, Tommy Edman he is leading it. But there isn’t any reason why he couldn’t be a regular outfielder if the more experienced flyhawks falter, as some did this spring. The versatile switch-hitter still will be needed as DeJong’s primary backup at shortstop, unless Edmundo Sosa makes the team. But Sosa has options left, so he may go out for a while.
Edman figures to get 400 at-bats however this works out. Will he hit as well as last year when he batted .304 with 11 homers in half a season? Probably not, as more teams game plan for him. Edman doesn’t have to put up those kinds of numbers, though. He does an assortment of things that winning players do, and the Cardinals are better off when he plays.
6. CAN REYES AND CECIL CONTRIBUTE?
As to the second part of that query, not for a while. After a reasonably impressive spring since nobody had seen him pitch for a year, which he missed by battling carpal tunnel syndrome and a nerve issue in his elbow, Brett Cecil suffered a torn hamstring while attempting to cover first base. He will be out a month or more, which won’t cost him any games. But he won’t have any chance immediately further to impress the staff that finally had seen an uptick in his velocity to go with a sharper breaking ball. And, if Andrew Miller recovers his good health, there might be little room in the inn for the 33-year-old Cecil.
Alex Reyes, who had a normal spring training after fighting injuries for the past three years, indicated he could be a possibility as a late-inning reliever. He had trouble commanding his fastball at times, but broke out a devastating changeup and good breaking ball. Ultimately, the Cardinals want the 25-year-old righthander to be a candidate for the rotation but that won’t happen until later this season, if then. At least, though, he is healthy. And for that, there continues to be hope.
7. HOW WILL THEY MANAGE A CROWDED CLUBHOUSE?
It's still crowded, as president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who had been poised to make roster trims on Friday, deferred those moves.
“With regard to transactions, we are permitted to do so,” Mozeliak said Sunday. “But . . . we will not make any until we have more clarity on what the future holds.”
So 57 players remain in big-league camp, including third-base prospect Nolan Gorman and lefthanded pitcher Matt Liberatore, acquired from Tampa Bay in the the trade for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena.
Lefthanded-batting Gorman more than held his own, batting .308 with a homer and two doubles and he played adequately in the field. Unfortunately, with the minor-league seasons also postponed, Gorman, who might be 20 by the time baseball resumes (his birthday is May 10), won’t get as much developmental time in the minors this season as he might otherwise have had. But the club hopes he can handle the Class AA level at Springfield.
Liberatore, 20, made it into only two games but looked good on the side and might turn up in Class AA.
8. ANY ROOM FOR SURPRISES?
Besides the strong showing by Gorman, fast-rising righthanded reliever Kodi Whitley turned some heads. Whitley, who finished five of the six games in which he pitched, didn’t allow a run and only three hits while striking out eight in six innings. Whitley, who had seven saves at Springfield after nine at Peoria the year before, figures as a setup man type. But he might close for Triple A Memphis, for which he had a 1.52 earned-run average for 16 games.
Pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon might have been the biggest surprise of those who had previous time with the Cardinals. Working starters’ innings in camp, the righthander permitted just one run in a staff-high-tying 13 innings, striking out 12 and holding opponents to a .188 batting average. It still isn’t known whether Ponce de Leon will be used as a starter or reliever, but he is on this team if it played today.
As, of course, would be Korean lefthander Kwang Hyun Kim, who nearly was unhittable this spring and created more bad swings than any pitcher the Cardinals had. Eight innings, no runs, 11 strikeouts, five hits, one walk. The Cardinals felt Kim, 31, would be good. But he might be the steal of last off-season at $8 million for two years.
9. IF NOT MARTINEZ, WHO WILL CLOSE?
The Cardinals did not get close enough to the end of camp to have made any declaration. But Giovanny Gallegos, their premier setup man last year, worked four ninth innings in camp. After some control problems in his early games — he passed only 16 in 74 innings last year — Gallegos ended his spring with four hitless outings, striking out six in 3 2/3 innings.
But there will be some committee members involved. Hard-throwing young righthander Ryan Helsley had a 1.29 ERA for the spring and lefthander Tyler Webb re-confirmed he can retire lefthanded and righthanded batters. A healthy Miller, Ponce de Leon and maybe Reyes, too, could be in the ninth-inning mix. But, if the season were to start in 10 days — which it won’t — it would be Gallegos.
10. IS THE REAL ANSWER OUTSIDE THE ORGANIZATION?
Nearly everybody still plays for the same team for which he played when he came to camp. The Cardinals’ offense in the spring, while DeJong and Wong were monsters, didn’t allay all concerns That next big hitter (Nolan Arenado?) might be on somebody else’s team but activity is frozen for now.
“Overall, we were having a good camp and we were pleased with what we were seeing,” Mozeliak said.