'The clock's ticking': Cardinals seek clarity on Martinez's shoulder, progress from Ozuna's arm

2019 Cardinals spring training

Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez throws while running situational ground ball drills at spring training on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JUPITER, Fla. • With one month between them and opening day in Milwaukee, the Cardinals are gaining clarity on the readiness of three players who were part of their 2018 opening day lineup, and they aim to see progress or put a new plan in place.

UPDATE: Injection means Carlos Martinez will be sidelined an extra week at Cardinals camp

Carlos Martinez traveled Monday to visit with a physician for a second opinion on the shoulder ailment that halted his spring training and threatens his availability for the start of the regular season. The purpose of Martinez’s absence from camp was to get “additional medical opinions,” executive John Mozeliak said, and results late Monday or early Tuesday will shape Martinez’s next step. Mozeliak said the team expected this “second look” to confirm the team’s initial view that Martinez must strengthen muscles within his right shoulder to avoid fatigue and the recurring injuries he had this past year.

The Cardinals have set next week as the date to re-evaluate Martinez and possibly return him to a throwing program, or that could be delayed again. The team has begun to prepare for the possibility Martinez, last year’s opening day starter, won’t be ready as a starter and could shift to a relief role. Starting the season on the injured list is also possible depending how his shoulder responds.

Yadier Molina and Marcell Ozuna remain on track to be in the lineup for the March 28 season opener. Molina, who is recovering from knee surgery, will catch his first Grapefruit League game March 14. That gives him two weeks of games to get ready. He’ll appear at designated hitter before then, and in the coming week he’ll pick and choose what bullpen sessions he wants to catch. This past weekend, he got in the gear for the first time and caught Adam Wainwright.

Ozuna, who had offseason shoulder surgery, started at designated hitter in Monday’s 3-3 tie with Detroit. Ozuna remains on a throwing program to improve his mechanics and strengthen his arm, and the Cardinals are looking for some progress before putting him in left field.

The goal remains mid-March.

“The clock’s ticking,” Mozeliak said. “The season is a month away. We’re seeing steady progress and we just need that to continue moving forward. We need to know when he’ll be ready to go with confidence in his arm. We need to see that.”

Ozuna said the shoulder is “feeling good, better” and that he has a sense that his mechanics are getting more comfortable and throws stronger. He acknowledged that he’s not at full strength, and the Cardinals want to avoid last season’s start when he couldn’t throw well on opening day. They want him to play “without limitations,” Mozeliak said. Ozuna has shown few of those at the plate.

In his first at-bat Monday, Ozuna yanked a line drive to left field that was caught, in stride, by a Tigers outfielder. From what the Cardinals have described they saw last season, it was the kind of pitch and hit that Ozuna would have mashed into the ground as his shoulder rebelled on him.

“Yes. Yes,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Feels good. Getting through the ball. Ball has got a little more carry. The ball is in the air a little more consistently. I know he’s in a good spot, getting through it. That’s the Ozuna that he wants and we want.”

Shildt expects Ozuna to play in left field a little after or around the time Molina returns to catch. The manager acknowledged that Ozuna’s readiness in left field takes less time than other positions, but that time is not zero games in the Grapefruit League. Molina will have time remaining in the schedule to catch the entire rotation. He has been able to run in workouts, field other positions during infield practice and take batting practice without limitations.

“He’s getting close. He’s getting really close,” Shildt said. “He could (DH) today if we needed him to. It’s just a matter of when he wants to get a feel for his at-bats.”

REYES EARNS RAVES

Before some cups of coffee had been finished in the clubhouse, Andrew Miller, Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks threw live batting practice sessions that could be the prelude to their first appearances in Grapefruit League games. Miller faced hitters for the first time, threw about 20 pitches, had no issues, and said he expects to make his game debut this weekend.

Hicks continued to experiment with his four-seam fastball, and he and lefty Brett Cecil are expected to appear in games in the next week.

All Reyes did was wow.

The righthander, who is returning from shoulder surgery, snapped two curves to start one simulated at-bat and then froze a hitter with a fastball. He followed that sequence with two fastballs taken for a 0-2 count and then got the hitter with a curve for a called strike three. Shildt could be heard “cackling,” his word, from his vantage point in the outfield. Miller said he looked like a “schlub” given the velocity that came after him, and Reyes continues to push his way into the conversation for the Cardinals’ opening-week rotation.

“I’m dying to pitch in a spring training game,” Reyes said. “It’s been a few years. I’m dying to get out there. (I’ll) show up tomorrow. Ears open.”

EXTRA BASES

Andrew Morales had a scan taken of his right shoulder to determine the reason behind inflammation and soreness that forced him from Sunday’s game. The righthanded reliever said the results were “inconclusive, but optimistic” as he’ll rest and try to avoid a chronic issue that interrupted seasons a couple of years ago. … Dakota Hudson will start Wednesday’s game as the Cardinals want to see if he could be an option for the rotation. Hudson won the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year award last year, as a starter. … Lefty Austin Gomber will follow him in that game against Atlanta. … Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty will piggyback in Thursday’s game against the New York Mets.


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