The first week of spring training games always brings a mix of excitement and trepidation as pitchers take to the mound for the first time in a game atmosphere against real opponents. So far the St. Louis Cardinals have been able to experience the excitement, but more trepidation awaits Saturday.
Wainwright threw 2.2 innings Monday against the Houston Astros, who got four hits off of the Cardinals’ right-handed ace, but he did not give up a run and struck out four.
Sure, Wainwright didn’t come into spring training with any major health concerns, but he is still just two years removed from Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and it is always crucial to get that first start out of the way without any problems.
Garcia pitched two innings in a start Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox. He gave up three hits but no runs and had two strikeouts.
His outing was a bigger concern because it was the first time he had pitched in a game since facing the Washington Nationals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series last year when he had to come out after two innings because of shoulder discomfort, and that was after he missed much of the second half of the regular season with the same problem.
But Garcia looked sharp Tuesday and reported no lingering issues with his shoulder.
That would be a huge relief for the Cardinals because Garcia is a key piece of the starting rotation, especially now that Chris Carpenter won’t be around. Carpenter’s injury effectively moves Garcia or Jake Westbrook up to the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
So, with Wainwright and Garcia off to good starts, the Cardinals move on to their next question mark on the pitching staff: Shelby Miller.
Miller is scheduled to start Saturday against the Nationals after he missed several days with soreness in his right shoulder. That could certainly be a major concern if something truly is messed up in the rookie’s shoulder, but most signs point to his soreness as just a normal part of working back into game shape after the offseason.
The Cardinals will find out for sure in just a few days when Miller takes the mound. So far the team has had all of its injury questions answered the way they would prefer. Wainwright looked sharp, Garcia pitched well and the rest of the pitching staff hasn’t reported any injury problems, which is more important at this time of the year than how they perform on the mound.
This will also be the first in a series of important outings for Miller, regardless of his health. He is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation with Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, in what figures to be one of the most hotly contested battles of the spring.
Kelly has yet to enter a game, but Rosenthal started the Cardinals spring opener Saturday against the Miami Marlins, and things didn’t go so well. He gave up four runs on five hits and two walks without recording a strikeout.
Granted, the results in the first start of the spring aren’t very important, and he didn’t have any abnormal discomfort after the game. Rosenthal will get his shot to make the rotation. And if he doesn’t, the Cardinals will have his 100 mph fastball as an effective weapon out of the bullpen.
So the Cardinals can relax a bit now that the pitchers recovering for old injuries have surpassed the first hurdle of spring, but Miller will have to get through Saturday’s game without any issues before they can fully exhale.