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Space in bullpen opens for Bowman as Walden's shoulder ails him

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Jordan Walden

St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jordan Walden throws a pitch March 7 against the New York Mets. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JUPITER, Fla. • In the time it took Cardinals reliever Jordan Walden to utter three words, the look of the team’s opening day bullpen shifted, and the righthander’s on-again, off-again relationship with his shoulder was off. Again.

After throwing a scoreless inning Wednesday and having little trouble reaching 95 mph with his fastball, Walden walked to the dugout and told manager Mike Matheny his shoulder “didn’t feel right.”

That means Walden has been left behind.

The reliever will visit a doctor in Dallas as early as Friday and he will open the regular season on the disabled list with persisting soreness in his right shoulder. His absence “is going to lead to an opening” for reliever Matt Bowman, general manager John Mozeliak said. As the Cardinals bused to Tampa, Fla., for Thursday’s final exhibition game of the spring, Walden, his bag packed for the trip just hours earlier, went his own direction.

“My shoulder is not where it needs to be,” Walden said. “I guess I’m going to need some more time. It’s nothing bad. It’s just not where it needs to be for the season, so that’s where I’m at. I know I can pitch through discomfort. It comes to a point where you can’t pitch through pain. I’m not worried at all. I just need to build up a couple of things, and I’ll be back.”

Walden said he felt the discomfort return when he threw a slider to the second batter he faced in the Cardinals’ 3-0 victory against Miami. Walden faced only three batters, struck out one, and had no difficulty throwing with velocity. Matheny acknowledged that during the inning he felt Walden was putting the punctuation on a strong spring, one that earned him a spot in the bullpen despite missing most of last season with a shoulder ailment.

That changed the moment Walden reached the dugout.

The burly righthander made 12 appearances last season and had a 0.87 ERA as the Cardinals’ primary setup man. Then he struggled to recover from an injury, didn’t respond well to his first rehab program and then missed the remainder of the season with rotator cuff damage.

Surgery was suggested by team doctors. Walden resisted, insisting he could recover with a strength program and rest. He devoted himself to that this winter and entered spring training with more strength around the shoulder and less soreness in it.

The Cardinals weren’t counting on much from him and structured the bullpen depth as if they wouldn’t have him. His initial throws left Matheny and the team optimistic. Walden did not allow a run in seven appearances. He struck out seven in seven innings. But his availability was intermittent. He pitched five times in 16 days, then missed a week with soreness. He pitched twice, then reported soreness again.

Asked this spring if they could go north with a reliever not regularly available, Matheny preferred to expect Walden would be full-strength by April.

Walden suggested this might be his new normal.

“That’s where we are,” Matheny said. “Something didn’t feel right, and we’re going to have to get him looked at again. It doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to make our roster.”

The Cardinals kept Bowman on the roster in case of this moment. The righthander had some early hiccups in spring, missed time to recover from a bruised eye and then had some bad luck in back-to-back appearances. A sinkerballer, Bowman was undone by his defense in one appearance. He recovered, and in his past three outings didn’t allow an earned run and walked one against three strikeouts. The Cardinals see Bowman as a versatile reliever who can throw an inning when the Cardinals are trailing or handle long relief if needed. As a Rule 5 selection, Bowman must remain on the 25-man roster all summer for the Cardinals to wrest control of him from the New York Mets.

If the Cardinals attempt to send him to the minor leagues, Bowman must first pass through waivers so that the other 28 teams have access to him, and then he can be offered back to the Mets.

WACHA ‘CLICKS’

After weeks of groping for his timing and making do with the movement of his pitches rather than controlling them, Michael Wacha felt his delivery “click” Wednesday. Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and Wacha worked to simplify his complex delivery, reducing moments from the windup and then repeating them from the stretch. The result was a rhythm that he had lacked for much of the spring.

The result was also five scoreless innings.

“You could see it as well as I did when it clicked,” Matheny said. “Perfect timing. Heading out of here really good after searching (and) not necessarily having that feel. Stuff felt good. But something was just a hair off. To pull it all together in his last day here is good.”

Wacha will make his first regular-season start Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

MANESS WORKS

Sometime around the third inning of work on the back fields this past weekend, Seth Maness felt his sinker stop misbehaving. The righthander had requested as much time as needed in a minor-league game to find the feel of his keystone pitch, the groundball-coaxing fastball. He threw three innings – about 45 pitches – and then brought that feel into Wednesday’s game.

Maness relieved Walden and threw two solid innings. He walked two but was able to recover quickly with a ground ball to keep the Marlins scoreless

“It felt good to get it going,” Maness said. “I was babying it. I just needed to go through it. Instead of trying to force the movement, I got to a point where I could trust the movement.”

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