Notes: Time to stand up and deliver
Competition for rotation, bullpen under way from the start
JUPITER, Fla. -- Squeezing nine or more relievers into seven or fewer roster spots is not an easy task. It would seem to be one of the greatest challenges facing Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan this spring.
Actually, more accurately, the Cardinals have at least 11 Major League relievers in camp. Two of them, though, are headed for the starting rotation.
"I think that's a good sign," La Russa said of the glut. "One reason that [Adam] Wainwright and [Braden] Looper and Brad Thompson, we figure that we can stretch them out and see them as starters. Because we do have more depth in the bullpen."
But maybe it's something else entirely, not a puzzle but an opportunity. And maybe it's not a matter for the field staff, but for general manager Walt Jocketty. The excess in the bullpen could be used to acquire starting rotation help.
In the meantime, though, six right-handers and three lefties, plus prospects and non-roster invitees, will battle for at most seven jobs. Even with Wainwright and Looper among the favorites to start, all of the following righties have legitimate claims to roster spots: Jason Isringhausen, Russ Springer, Josh Kinney, Josh Hancock, Ryan Franklin and Thompson. From the left side, it would be difficult to cut Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson or Ricardo Rincon.
So there's competition. Fierce, if friendly, competition.
"It's not our first travel ball team," said Flores, who signed a new two-year contract over the winter. "So most guys have been in a spot where you have to compete for your spot. Maybe this year is different in that there is even more competition, but it's all the same."
Barring a trade or injury, there would seem to be at most five sure things: Isringhausen, Springer, Franklin, Flores and perhaps Johnson. Hancock's place is likely safe, but not necessarily locked in. Rincon, last year brought in to be the top lefty, is not a certainty. Even Kinney, who dazzled last October, could fall victim to one of baseball's old truths: players with options remaining lose all ties.
So they'll all be watched closely, starting immediately.
"I always feel that whenever you have competition, the right guys rise to the top," Duncan said.
"Everybody is going to get an opportunity. Everybody. Whether they have experience or not. I think that it's known around here enough that what we're going to try to do is take the best 11 guys or 12 guys or whatever we decide."
Special guest: While some of his players will spend Sunday afternoon watching the Daytona 500 from their couches, La Russa will have one of the best seats in the house. The manager will be boarding a plane after Sunday morning's workout and heading for Daytona Beach, Fla., to watch the "Great American Race" up close.
He'll be a guest of a friend who is a car owner in one of NASCAR's touring divisions. Not only will La Russa attend the race, he'll sit in on the pre-race drivers' meeting, and watch the event from the box of track owners, the France family. It's nice to be the world champion.
"It's one of those situations you can't say no to," La Russa said. "I was thrilled."
It will be La Russa's first time attending the "Super Bowl of Racing," though he did sneak a peek at some of the action at Daytona International Speedway about 40 years ago.
"I would have been 19 years old, my second full year with the Kansas City A's," he said. "The A's and the Pirates trained at the barracks in Daytona, across [from the speedway]. This was 1964, so it was one of the first years. So we saw [qualifying trials]. We were able to maneuver ourselves to where we saw the trials, and that was a real thrill. It's the only time I've ever been anywhere near it."
Encarnacion on schedule: When Juan Encarnacion arrives, he may be handled somewhat carefully, but he won't be restricted. La Russa said Saturday that Encarnacion is expected to be fully healthy for workouts following offseason wrist surgery.
"I think he'll probably ease into it," La Russa said. "But when we saw him in January, he'd gotten a real good report on his exam. I think we'll be careful with him. I just don't know how much he'll swing so you don't get a fatigue factor. But as far as health, he should be fine. It's just a matter of building him up."
Arrivals: The clubhouse continues to fill up in advance of Monday's all-hands report day. Adam Kennedy headlined the arrivals on Saturday, the fourth of St. Louis' eight expected everyday starters to arrive. Prospects Travis Hanson and Cody Haerther also joined in the fun.
Quotable: "If that were to happen, we would be far enough along in the spring that we would be looking at all the options that we might have. It's not cut and dried that if Izzy isn't available, Wainwright would be the closer. I don't think that's a cut-and-dried thing." -- Duncan, on how the Cardinals would proceed if Isringhausen has a significant setback
Weather report: Saturday was spectacular, if still a bit cool. Temperatures remained in the 60s with a light breeze and no clouds. It looks like more of the same on Sunday, with a forecast high of 64 and a slight chance of morning showers.
Coming up: Sunday's workout will be a short one. The Cards will get started early, taking the field to stretch at 9 a.m. ET. They'll be done by around 10:30, allowing the manager to head north up to Daytona Beach.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.