Tag Archive | "Opening Day"

St. Louis Cardinals’ Bullpen Battle Takes Center Stage for Roster Decisions

The St. Louis Cardinals came to spring training with very few roster decisions to make.  Most of those decisions have been reached in the last few days.

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Kolten Wong appears to be the starting second baseman, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos will share time in center field, Joe Kelly will be the fifth starter, Carlos Martinez will serve as the eighth-inning reliever and Pat Neshek has seemingly made the club.  That leaves only one decision to be made: Which pitcher will join the bullpen as the seventh reliever?

The competition comes down to three young hopefuls: Jorge Rondon, Scott McGregor and Keith Butler.  Those three arms head into the final week of spring training hoping to win a spot on the roster of players heading north to Cincinnati for Opening Day.

Butler is the known commodity of the group, having pitched 20 innings over 16 games for the Cardinals in 2013.  His performance was far from dominant, walking 11 hitters while striking out 16, but it is enough to earn him consideration yet again.

His spring performance does not look that great either, having thrown just over eight innings and surrendering eight runs.  His five walks this spring may raise a flag concerning control.  His minor league stats from 2013 do not seem to suggest it is a long term problem, as he only walked 11 hitters over 41 innings.

Rondon is another in the long line of power arms the Cardinals seem to be able to produce from their farm system.  The difference with him is that he may not have full control over the lively stuff he pushes across the plate.  He has only walked three hitters this spring while striking out seven.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that Rondon has yet to surrender a run.  Rondon did pitch in Memphis last season and did well despite the control issues he faced.  In just under 68 innings, he walked 37 hitters while striking out 42.  He may need a little more time in the minors to prove he has his control settled before making the team.

Manager Mike Matheny shared his thoughts on Rondon with Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

With Rondon, you’re looking at stuff and someone who has improved.  We gave him a task of pounding the strike zone and simplifying his approach. He’s done well and seen some results.

The long shot of the group is McGregor, who is a non-roster invitee to camp.  His four innings over three games this spring have yielded three runs, two walks and a pair of strikeouts.  McGregor spent 2013 as a starter in the Cardinals’ minor leagues and is seemingly being looked at as a long relief option.

While he struggles for consistency as well as playing time, his placement on the team would also require a subsequent roster move to make room on the 40-man.

Rondon and McGregor may have taken advantage of the situation to get their names in the minds of those in charge.  Unfortunately, it may come down to experience and the product Matheny already knows.

The final relief position likely belongs to Butler unless something goes horribly wrong.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.

Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Rookie Kolten Wong Expected to Be St. Louis Cardinals’ Starting 2nd Baseman

Kolten Wong’s journey has traveled many directions in his short time establishing himself on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster. He was the prospect who was poised to take the position over late last season. He became the heir apparent during the offseason. He struggled at the start of spring training.

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Now he appears to be the starting second baseman when the season begins.

As spring training winds down for the Cardinals, most of their roster decisions have been made. One of the key positions that seemed to demand attention was second base.

General manager John Mozeliak acquired an insurance policy for his young prospect when he signed Mark Ellis to a contract in December 2013. Ellis would challenge the young Wong to produce immediately if he wanted to hold on to his starting role.

Wong responded early in spring training by pushing himself too hard and found himself without a hit in his first 10 at-bats. Speculation was rampant that Wong simply was not ready. The young man was doing very little to change the minds of his critics.

Then something clicked in his progress—Wong relaxed and started showing signs of the talent so many had talked about prior to this season. He finds himself leading the Cardinals this spring with a .372 batting average. He has an impressive .674 slugging percentage and is leading the team in OPS with a 1.100 mark. The offensive production that some predicted seems to have arrived.

Meanwhile, his challenger struggled to take the field often enough to truly create the competition that management seemed to want. Ellis was slowed by a left knee ailment that caused him to miss seven consecutive games, and now finds himself preparing for Opening Day.

Ellis is expected to be ready for the season opener on March 31. When discussing the situation with Rick Hummel the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,Ellis expressed frustration with the injury more than with not being the starter:

I’m always disappointed when I can’t play…. I never want to be the guy in the training room. I want to be the guy who nobody has to worry about. They don’t have to worry about, ‘Hey, is this guy going to be able to play today or not?’ That’s what is disappointing.

Wong seems ready to begin his rookie season, and Ellis is ready to be the veteran backup.

The Cardinals are ready to win with both of them.

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com.
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Grading the Performance of St. Louis Cardinals’ Top Prospects at Spring Training

Spring training offers a preview of what the 2014 season holds for the teams around Major League Baseball.  It also gives a glimpse of the future of the organizations as prospects take the field and show off their talents in front of the big league coaching staffs.

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The Cardinals have their share of prospects, and the folks over at Cardinals Farm do a great job of keeping fans up to date on the various players and their production.  Recently, they identified the top prospects in the organization.  Their top five were as follows:

  1. Oscar Taveras
  2. Carlos Martinez
  3. Kolten Wong
  4. Stephen Piscotty
  5. Marco Gonzales

With that in mind, it is time to grade each of those prospects on their production to this point in spring training.  As Opening Day draws near, the report cards are starting to be handed out.

Let’s take a look and see who’s making the grade.

Marco Gonzales Receives an Incomplete for His Brief Appearance

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The No. 5 prospect on the list, Marco Gonzales has one major thing on his side: He is young. A 2013 draft pick, Gonzales was likely in camp with the big league club simply to get some experience in the clubhouse with the veterans.

Less than a season after being drafted, it would be unfair to grade Gonzales on his production on the field. He did see action in one game, pitching in less than two innings while walking three batters, surrendering two hits, yielding two runs and ultimately being saddled with the loss. To say his outing was not the best would be an understatement.

But for a young man seeing his first action in a big league environment, Gonzales stood proud. Assigning a grade to such a short stint would be cruel, to say the least. For now, Gonzales is simply acknowledged for being here and given the grade equivalent of a participation trophy.

Gonzales' current grade: Incomplete

Bill Ivie is the founder of i70baseball.com
Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things baseball throughout the season.

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Five storylines from Kansas City Royals camp

This has been an interesting spring for the Kansas City Royals. Some position battles have been settled, while others are still being hotly contested. Some players have sizzled in the Cactus League, while others have struggled. There is no shortage of news as Opening Day is inching closer and closer. Here are five storylines from Royals camp:

1) Yordano Ventura will crack starting rotation

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Ventura was in a battle for a spot in the Royals rotation this spring, with his main competition being Danny Duffy. Well it didn't end up being much of a battle in the end. Ventura has dazzled this spring forcing manager Ned Yost to name him as one of his five starters. After Ventura pitched six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Rangers on Monday there really wasn't a choice for Yost.

"We knew this was probably the way it was going to go," Yost said after Ventura pitched six innings of four-hit ball in a St. Patrick's Night, 6-0, greening of the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. "After tonight I think we've just seen enough. There's no reason not to announce this now." -Royals.com


Yost also told Royals.com that Ventura will slide into the third spot in the rotation behind James Shields and Jason Vargas, rather than as a fifth starter like many expected. This spring, Ventura has a 1.76 ERA over 15.1 innings and has held batters to a .185 average.

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Carlos Martinez could follow Shelby Miller path to starting rotation

St. Louis Cardinals righthanded starting pitcher Shelby Miller had to beat out Joe Kelly for the fifth and final spot in the rotation through somewhat of a spring training-long duel between the two pitchers in 2013, and Kelly faces a similar challenge that could produce a similar result in 2014.

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Miller has a lock on a starting job for the 2014 season, so righthanded pitcher Carlos Martinez has taken his spot as the rookie on the verge of a spot in the rotation and in competition with Kelly, who could easily fall victim to another young Cardinals pitching sensation.

Martinez has done plenty to impress through roughly the first half of camp. He is 1-0 after a four-inning, two-hit performance Wednesday in a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets. That was his third start of the spring, and he lowered his earned-run average to 1.80 to go with five strikeouts.

Kelly, meanwhile, struggled his first two starts of the spring. He allowed seven runs and walked four batters in a combined four innings before he settled down for a 5.1-inning winning performance Saturday in a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves when he allowed one run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts.

Kelly did not pitch particularly poorly during the 2013 spring training camp, but Cardinals management obviously thought Miller was capable of a strong rookie season that started with him in the rotation on Opening Day, even though Kelly ended up in the rotation in the postseason while Miller sat in the bullpen unused aside from one inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Division Series.

Miller still set the bar high for Martinez or any of the other young Cardinals pitchers after he went 15-9 with a 3.06 earned-run average and finished third in the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year voting, but Martinez has the talent to have a comparable first full season in Major League Baseball.

Martinez pitched in 21 games for the Cardinals in 2013 and became the eighth-inning setup reliever toward the end of the regular season and in the postseason, where he posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 innings.

Still, the Cardinals were cautious in how much they used Martinez in 2013. They first called him up from the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds in May but sent him back to the minor leagues in June and late July to try to keep his arm fresh, as well as let him start at Memphis to maintain his endurance in case an injury befell one of the other starting pitchers with the big-league club.

They would obviously take care of Martinez again in the upcoming season, and he could very well move start the season back in the eighth-inning role because the Cardinals have few options for that spot, particularly if righthanded reliever Jason Motte is not yet fully recovered from the elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of spring training a year ago.

Martinez has all but guaranteed himself a roster spot for when the team opens the season March 31 against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati, but he has pitched so well in his first three starts of the spring that he will await his first appearance from the dugout rather than the bullpen, just the way Miller did the year before.

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Who Stands To Gain From The Loss Of Taveras?

For the second year in a row it became the spring that never was for Oscar Taveras. The Cardinals’ top prospect was sent to minor league camp on Thursday after only two appearances that consisted of six at-bats and one hit. It was a pump fake of a start to the season for Taveras, who entered camp with as much hype internally with the organization as he did with the fan base. Yet in the end (at the beginning), this spring failed to see the extreme potential of the 22 year old even pick up a glove. But the spring is all about seizing the opportunities that are presented, so who does his removal from the Opening Day picture benefit the most?

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It was understood that it would be a slow start to the spring for Taveras, who spent the winter on the mend from a series of ankle injuries that ended his 2013 season after 46 on and off games. Yet it was the combination of a second injury to his hamstring that ultimately sidelined him again this spring, and made it pointless to keep him in the wait with the Major League team once Minors camp got up and going. Combined with the notion that he was not pushing himself as hard as the club may like to get out on the field despite his hindrances, and it is no surprise he is out of the picture for the time being.

However, the club is featuring a series of strong showings from its outfield candidates, especially from the minor leaguers that remain with the club. While Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Peter Bourjos and John Jay are assured spots on the 25-man roster, there is the push for a final bench spot that could be up for an unexpected competition now.

The incumbent that would be assumed of the spot would be Shane Robinson, who is accustomed to the battles that come with being a fifth outfielder. He put up the best showing of any Cardinal last spring, and is having another strong campaign this year, hitting .316 over 10 games thus far. His versatility, defensive prowess and familiarity with the team work in his favor, and even with a healthy and producing Taveras, it seemed to be a bit of a stretch that he would take a part-time role from a player that is perfectly groomed for such a capacity as Robinson.

Randal Grichuk has showcased why he was an important part of the deal that sent David Freese to Anaheim, and has also had an encouraging spring, albeit one that will do more to find his place in his new system over place him in the big league picture for now. The same could be said for Xavier Scruggs, who has shown he is ready to be an everyday contributor in Memphis immediately as well.

However, of the young Cardinal prospects whom have made the biggest impact, Stephen Piscotty has stood out among all. The converted college infielder’s bat is what fuels his rise, and while he is learning on the run in right field, he is making the same type of impression at the plate that Matt Adams did a year ago—the type of impact that changed plans for the Opening Day roster and earned him a permanent stay.

On the spring, Piscotty has hit for a .333 average over a team-best 12 games, on seven hits, including two doubles, a triple and a home run, good  for six RBI and five runs scored himself. He is having the type of effort that opens eyes creates a permanent mark on the radar, and one that could see him force his issue onto the team much sooner that previously considered.

Numbers in the spring mean little in the big picture, and are erased nearly as quickly as they are recorded when the teams head north. But the impact that is made as they are created lasts permanently. And this spring’s indicators are showing that the script as written throughout the window should already be considered outdated.

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Previewing the Cardinals 2014 Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the Cardinals released the details of their schedule for the 2014 season. After some of the adjustments made to the scheduling process in the first year of the balanced schedules, there were plenty of new elements to get used to. Constant interleague match ups, two game “natural rivalry” series, an increase in four-game stands and increased divisional play all changed the course of the season and the weight of each ballgame.

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Next spring will be the ninth season for Busch Stadium III, as well as the inaugural year for Ballpark Village. But looking ahead inside the park, there are new challenges on the horizon for the Cardinals. Most notably, the interleague alignment will pit the baseball’s two most competitive divisions from this season against each other, as the National League Central will face off against the American League East.  This will undoubtedly create a much tougher road throughout the season, yet create a number of attractive match ups, both a current and historical sense.

Also, the I-70 Series vs the Kansas City Royals will remain in the fold, as the two-and-two format will remain in place, with two consecutive series in each team’s home ballpark.

Unlike this year, the team will play a heavier home schedule before the All-Star Break with 48 home games at Busch Stadium before the July 14-17 Mid-Summer Classic, and another 33 after. While announcements on ticket availability, promotions and game times will come in the future, here are a few of the highlights and series of note for the upcoming season.

  • The season opens March 31 in Cincinnati with a three game series against the Reds, before moving on to Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend set.
  • Opening Day in St. Louis is Monday, April 7 versus the Reds for the second consecutive season
  • April 11-13: First home series versus the Chicago Cubs
  • May 2-4: First weekend trip to Wrigley Field
  • Longest Homestand: From May 12-June 3, the team plays only three games away from Busch
  • Interleague visits to Busch: The New York Yankees visit Busch from May 26-28, the Tampa Bay Rays for a two game series July 22-23 and the Boston Red Sox from August 5-7.
  • Interleague Travels: The Toronto Blue Jays June 6-8, Tampa Bay Rays June 10-11 and to Baltimore to face the Orioles August 8-10.
  • I-70 Series: The Kansas City Royals come to Busch from June 2-3, and the Cardinals go to Kansas City June 4-5.
  • Holiday home stands: Memorial Day versus Yankees, Fourth of July (vs. Miami Marlins) and Labor Day (September 1 vs. Pirates)
  • The final home stand of the season is a nine game stand against the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds from September 12-21.
  • The season ends visiting the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 28.

 

 

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Ballpark Village Parking Lot Now Open

ST. LOUIS (August 6, 2013) – The St. Louis Cardinals and the Cordish Companies announced today that more than 400 parking spaces within Ballpark Village are now available for fans looking for game day parking.

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“This is a significant construction milestone that will improve the game-day experience by providing additional convenient parking for our fans,” said William DeWitt III, President of the St. Louis Cardinals. “It is exciting to see the daily construction progress on Ballpark Village as we all look forward to Opening Day 2014.”

The development team, which broke ground on Ballpark Village in February of this year, has completed construction of a majority of the surface parking lot, as well as a significant portion of the overall infrastructure for the 10-acre development.  The development team has also completed most of the structural steel work on the first phase of Ballpark Village, which is on schedule to be completed by Opening Day 2014.

Some additional paving work will be completed over the next few weeks.  Public parking for games is available for $20.   For more information regarding parking hours, operation, rates and the availability of monthly parking, the public should contact St. Louis Parking at 314.341.7777 or info@stlouisparking.com.  Fans can learn more about Ballpark Village, as well as track construction progress at cardinals.com/bpv. Fans can join the social conversation with #bpv.

Ballpark Village (#bpv)
The construction of Ballpark Village represents the next step in the Cardinals’ vision for their investment in downtown St. Louis that began with the opening of the privately financed, $411 Busch Stadium in 2006. Ballpark Village is a mixed-use retail, entertainment, office, and residential district being developed in partnership by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cordish Companies. Spanning seven city blocks on the 10-acre site just north of Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village will be the country’s first fully integrated mixed-use development designed to deliver the excitement and energy of the game day experience to a new neighborhood outside the stadium walls.

The Cordish Companies
For generations, the Cordish family has grown The Cordish Companies into one of the world’s leading real estate development companies and a diverse group of successful entertainment-operating businesses. Cordish Companies’ entertainment and mixed-use projects include the Kansas City Power & Light District, Louisville Fourth Street Live, and The Power Plant & Pier IV in Baltimore.

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St. Louis Cardinals have big opportunity with new Hall of Fame

As the St. Louis Cardinals pursue their 12th championship in 2013 on the field of the latest version of Busch Stadium, the site of the previous ballpark is undergoing a transformation from a vacant lot to what should be a vibrant home for Cardinals fans to celebrate, as well as learn about the franchise’s impressive history.

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Seven years after the Cardinals moved into the new stadium, Ballpark Village is finally taking shape beyond the leftfield wall. Construction is ongoing on buildings that will host restaurants, beer gardens, views into the stadium and the premier aspect of the new development: the new Cardinals Hall of Fame.

The franchise had a hall of fame and museum for years across the street from the old stadium, but it was torn down a few years after the team moved to the new ballpark. The team’s hall of fame has since been online, but it should have a new home by Opening Day 2014.

The Cardinals have enough history to share with their fans to probably fill the entire Ballpark Village complex, but of course, brick-and-morter buildings only have so much space.

So, what must the team include in the new hall of fame?

First, the hall of fame should be a place to honor Stan “The Man” Musial as never before. The organization honored Musial many times during his life and has provided meaningful tributes since he died Jan. 19 at age 92. The Cardinals wear a patch to honor Musial on the left sleeve of their uniforms this season and he has long had a statue at the main entrance of the latest two versions of Busch Stadium.

However, any Cardinals hall of fame must begin with Musial. He probably doesn’t need another statue; he already has two outside the stadium, but the entrance to the hall of fame could be flush with Musial tributes and memorabilia. Maybe a large No. 6 could hang from the ceiling in the front lobby and video pieces about Musial could play in the background.

Also, fans that enter the hall of fame could be treated to a video piece that tells the story of Cardinals history, from when the team began play in 1892 through the 11 championships and the many great players who played on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Of course, the main attraction to any hall of fame is the people who are enshrined, and the Cardinals have plenty of nominees worthy of that honor.

The 14 people with their pictures on the leftfield wall are obvious choices. From Rogers Hornsby, who helped the franchise win its first World Series title in 1926 as a player/manager, to Tony La Russa, who guided the team to its 10th and 11th championships as manager, the people honored on the retired numbers wall comprise the greatest collection of Cardinals heroes.

But they aren’t the only people who should be enshrined the hall of fame. Longtime Cardinals fans all have favorite players from a bygone era, and the new hall of fame would be a perfect place to honor those players who were integral in the team’s success but don’t have their number retired and aren’t in the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Frank Fritch from the 1920s and 1930s, Pepper Martin from 1928 through 1944 and Joe Medwick through much of the 1930s are all players before the television era who were vital to the team’s success in those years, and it would be special for the organization to give fans a chance to learn about those greats.

Players from the 1980s such as Willie McGee and Darrell Porter should certainly have plaques in the hall of fame, along with John Tudor, Joaquin Andujar and Todd Worrell. Before that era, Mike Shannon should be in the hall as a player and broadcaster, and Shannon’s teammates from the 1960s such as Tim McCarver, Orlando Cepeda and Curt Flood should be included.

Many other players throughout the years will certainly qualify for enshrinement, but the hall of fame is also a museum, and part of what will likely make it a must-see destination for Cardinals fans is the variety of memorabilia in the building.

Since the team has played in four different stadiums, portions of each should be represented in new exhibits. Sportsman’s Park hosted Cardinals baseball beginning in 1892, but the team also played on a field known by the same name in those early years before returning to the corner of Grand and Dodier avenues in the late 1920s.

That park was home to Cardinals baseball until 1966, when the team moved into the big concrete bowl in downtown called Busch Stadium. That park hosted baseball and football for many years and eventually gave way to the current Busch Stadium in 2006.

Each of those stadiums had their unique features, but the moments inside them are what made them special. Certainly, items from memorable moments such as Ozzie Smith’s “Go crazy, folks!” homerun in 1985 should be included, as well as mementos from Game 6 of the 2011 World Series when David Freese capped off a 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers in 11 innings.

Those moments were great, no doubt, but the Cardinals could really personalize the hall of fame if they have memorabilia from a variety of events in team history. Something from the day Glenn Brummer stole home against the San Francisco Giants would be cool, as would something from the day Lou Brock broke Ty Cobb’s stolen base record with 118 swipes in 1974 or anything from Bob Gibson’s record-setting 1968 season when he pitched to a 1.12 earned-run average.

It is long-past time for the Cardinals to have a home for their incredibly deep, lively history. The franchise has accumulated so many successes and wonderful stories through more than a century of baseball that its hall of fame and museum is certain to be one of the best in the country.

Hopefully the team does it right and Ballpark Village becomes the home to the proper roots for Cardinals Nation.

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Welcome To St. Louis Carlos Martinez

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“Better get there quick, Big Boy.”

That quote has circled the blogosphere this week after St. Louis Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak responded with those words after Josh Gilliam, of the great site Pitchers Hit Eighth, asked about seeing Carlos Martinez in Springfield.  Less than a week later, Martinez is on his way to Milwaukee to join the major league squad as struggling reliever Mitchell Boggs heads to Triple-A to join Memphis.

Boggs was in line to be the Cardinals’ eighth inning man going into the season when closer Jason Motte revealed an injury.  The easiest resolution to that, in manager Mike Matheny‘s mind, was to move everyone in the bullpen up a role and Boggs was thrust into the closer position.  His reaction was less than satisfactory and suddenly the bullpen, once thought to be a strength of the team, was in turmoil.  It seemed everyone was struggling and Boggs was, quite possibly, at the head of it all.

Mozeliak moved quickly in response, sending Marc Rzepczynski to the minor leagues and adding Seth Maness both to the major league and the 40-man roster.  The bullpen needed to be settled and Mozeliak aimed to do so quickly.  Edward Mujica found patience and settled the ninth inning going forward.  Trevor Rosenthal, while still not being perfect, has seemed to find a bit of a foothold.

Boggs, however, continued to struggle.  He would show moments of steadiness followed by loss of command and concentration.  He has shown improvement, but not enough to warrant a continued spot on the roster.  Memphis will provide a place to step away from the focus and the bright lights of major league baseball while Boggs tries to discover his former command and potential.

Martinez, meanwhile, has shown progress throughout a season that started a little late this season.  Due to some visa issues early on, Martinez was very late arriving to a spring training that might have led to his arrival in St. Louis on opening day.  Due to the late start, Martinez found himself in Springfield to start the season.  In three starts, the most recent of which was on April 29, Martinez has increasingly gone further and been more effective.  Over the course of just over 11 innings this season, he has surrendered 11 hits and one walk.  Conversely, he has struck out nine hitters and held opponents to just three runs.  He is not the most impressive of Cardinal minor league hurlers, but he shows enough promise to deserve the promotion.

To make room for Martinez on the 40-man roster, as founder of the United Cardinal Bloggers Daniel Shoptaw speculated, shortstop Rafael Furcal was moved to the 60-day disabled list.

The hard throwing right-hander arrives in St. Louis as a part of the bullpen solution.  His next challenges will surface as he is used more frequently and in higher pressure situations.  How he responds to that challenge will reveal his longevity at this level.

The future has arrived in St. Louis.  How bright it shines is about to become apparent.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
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