Notes: Eckersley visits Cards camp
Hall of Fame closer talks to St. Louis relievers
JUPITER, Fla. -- Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley spoke to Cardinals relievers Tuesday in a 45-minute session that several described as both practical and motivational.
"It was great," right-hander Brad Thompson said. "He's a great guy, been in the league forever, a great guy to listen to and just kind of hear him talk about the game and pick up little bits and pieces, which is good for everybody."
Thompson was eager to meet Eckersley, who won 197 games and saved 390 during a 24-year Major League career.
"Growing up, I always loved Oakland, loved the Bash Brothers over there, so I got to watch him and I know a lot about him," Thompson said. "I really respect him and the fact that he took time out to come out and talk to us."
Thompson said Eckersley's talk covered "a little bit of everything," including Eckersley's knowledge from his career, tips for relieving and mental approach.
For Thompson, the most important thing he took from the session concerned Eckersley's mental approach to pitching.
"Dealing with success and dealing with failure," Thompson said. "He said some really good things about how to deal with everything. Basically it's taking pride in your game in every way and every day. And whatever happens, it's kind of a living-in-the-moment-type thing, so that was huge for me."
The youngsters weren't the only relievers impressed with Eckersley. Veteran right-hander Russ Springer described the session as very good.
"It's always good to get any kind of information you can from a pitcher of his caliber. There are very few Dennis Eckersley or Lee Smith-type guys around where you can sit down and get a chance to pick their brain, you know?" Springer said. "He was great. We interacted with him, he said some things that I think are going to help the young guys."
Springer said the session was helpful in a number of areas.
"He talked about his approach, both to the game situations and the mental side," Springer said. "He talked about some things he did in preparation [for games]. It was great stuff, it will help all of us."
Arms overhaul: Every team changes from season to season, but you'd be hard pressed to find a team, especially a World Series winner, that faced a greater overhaul of the rotation than the one St. Louis faces this year.
The departures of Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver and Jason Marquis and Mark Mulder's injury leaves the Cardinals possibly opening the season with only one returning starter who reached double figures in games started last season: Chris Carpenter.
The identity of the rest of the rotation behind Carpenter and Kip Wells, who made only nine starts in 2006 because of injuries, is uncertain, but the leading candidates have little experience as starters.
Adam Wainwright, the Cards closer in the World Series, has never started a Major League game. Braden Looper has plenty of experience out of the bullpen, but has never started a Major League game. And Thompson has just one career start.
"We knew we were going to probably have to replace a few guys," La Russa said. "Fortunately we have some options, these guys have good arms and have pitched up here, they just don't have the experience as starters. But the main thing is they have the tools [to start]."
Familiar partners: One well-worn baseball theory holds that shortstops and second basemen who haven't worked together are at a disadvantage, but Aaron Miles thinks that notion is overrated.
Miles, who is expected to back up shortstop David Eckstein and second baseman Adam Kennedy this year, has plenty of experience working with Eckstein, but will team with the newly acquired Kennedy during a few games this spring to get familiar with his tendencies and vice versa.
"I think if you've got two good players and they haven't played together, they're still going to be good, but the more and more you play with somebody, the better you get with them," Miles said. "Seeing Adam, he's played with David before, obviously both are good infielders. Those are the kind of guys that can be plugged in with anybody and do the job. I like to think I'm one of those guys who can plug in with anybody and do a good job."
Eckstein and Kennedy played together on the Angels from 2001-04 and helped that franchise win a World Series in 2002. Eckstein signed a free-agent contract with St. Louis following the 2004 season.
Going to the mat: Cardinals players found T-shirts draped over their clubhouse chairs Tuesday morning, courtesy of Eckstein. The red-sleeved shirt with a white front had the words "Team Eckstein 2007" emblazoned on the front.
Eckstein, a pro wrestling fan, brought his favorite wrestler, "The War Machine" Rhino, to the clubhouse on Tuesday.
"Wrestling is something I've enjoyed since I was a kid," Eckstein said.
Eckstein participated in a wrestling event during the offseason, during which the 2006 World Series MVP battled Team (A.J.) Pierzynski in an in-ring "brawl" won by Team Eckstein.
"When you step into the ring, you're outside your comfort zone," Eckstein said. "I can handle playing in front of 45,000 fans, but going out in front of the TNA Wrestling fans who always want to see action, I was nervous. But it was a lot of fun and definitely an adrenaline rush when everything started to go down, just as much when I step off the field after a game."
Pitching probables: Carpenter will start on Thursday against the New York Mets at Port St. Lucie. The right-hander will be limited to 40 pitches or three innings.
Also making the trip up Interstate 95 are right-handers Blake Hawksworth, Mike Parisi, Andy Cavazos and Mark Worrell and left-hander Tyler Johnson. Jason Isringhausen, Wells and Randy Keisler are scheduled to pitch bullpen sessions in Jupiter on Thursday.
Extra bases: Kennedy is doubtful for Wednesday's opener because of soreness in his right side. "I would say probably not just because there's no reason to push him," La Russa said when asked if the second baseman would play. ... La Russa hadn't decided who would start in the outfield in the opener. "You try to get the veterans' weekends figured out first, then you start filling in the pieces," La Russa said. ... Eckersley was one of three Hall of Famers in camp Tuesday. Jim Palmer also visited the Cards' clubhouse, and of course, Cards great Red Schoendienst was in attendance. ... Looper will make his first start of the spring on Friday against the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium.
Weather report: Partly cloudy skies and a high of 81 degrees is the forecast for the Cards' Grapefruit League opener, which means it should be a great afternoon for a ballgame in Jupiter.
Coming up: The games are finally here! Adam Wainwright gets the start as the Cardinals begin their Grapefruit League schedule with a 1:05 p.m. ET game against Scott Olsen and the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday.
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.