JUPITER, Fla. • Well onto the back fields at the Cardinals’ complex Tuesday morning, manager Mike Matheny watched from behind the batting cage and pitching coach Mike Maddux watched from behind the mound.
Starting pitchers don’t normally face their own hitters at this point in the spring, but Maddux had struggling Miles Mikolas and fellow righthander Bud Norris, recovering from hamstring spasms, throwing two simulated innings to top minor league hitters.
Helping to fix Mikolas, who has a 19.29 earned run average for two spring starts after starring in Japan the last three years, was uppermost on Maddux’s mind, and Matheny liked what he saw.
“Better,” said Matheny later. “We saw some good, elevated fastballs.”
Maddux is intent on Mikolas throwing more two-seam fastballs and perhaps using his curveball more, although Maddux wouldn’t cop to the latter. “Top secret,” said Maddux.
“It was a good free run, dry look,” said Maddux. “There’s no stats on it so you get to try things that maybe you’re reluctant to try in a game. We threw more two-seamers today. Our work is to instill confidence in that pitch because you get immediate results.”
Mikolas said he was working on pitch sequence and how hitters are reacting to it.
“It’s the same stuff I would have worked on in the bullpen, but I think just visualizing guys in there and swinging and seeing yourself getting good swings and misses or poor swings at 75, 80 percent ... is very encouraging,” he said .
Mikolas didn’t throw many curveballs in his first two games and had got in trouble when he came in with his four-seam fastball. For his part, he said he was concentrating more on working up and down as opposed to down and away, as he did in Japan.
In Japan, he said, “Even if that ball is down around their shoes, they’re so contact oriented that they’re trying to foul that ball off or putting it in play, and you have to go beyond their reach. Here, you’ve got a lot more room up and down.”
The next start for Mikolas will be Friday against Houston at West Palm Beach, Fla.
Meanwhile, rookie Jack Flaherty worked four strong innings, a spring high, tossing a Cardinals spring best 70 pitches. He struck out seven Miami Marlins, allowed a two-run homer to Lewis Brinson and hit two batters in the first inning before he found his control.
“He’s a different pitcher,” said Matheny. “You’re talking about a couple of new weapons he didn’t use last year, with the movement he’s putting on his fastball and mixing in the breaking ball more. He’s just very controlled.”
Flaherty, 0-2 in six appearances last year, said, “I kind of battled myself in the beginning. I don’t think my command was as ‘spot-on’ as I would like it. There’s always things to tighten up and to fix. But I felt way better than last time. I might have got a little bit tired the last time out at about 50 pitches. I felt way more in control going into that fourth inning.”
In his third frame last week at Sarasota, Fla., Flaherty allowed a grand slam to Baltimore’s Manny Machado.
Matheny said he had met briefly with outfielder Tommy Pham, who had been upset when his contract was renewed Monday.
“You can’t be completely blind about the business of the game,” said Matheny, “but you can’t let it affect how you go about your business. Tommy’s got a real good picture of that.”
COMING HOME — AGAIN
The Cardinals (Dexter Fowler) stole home for the second day in a row Tuesday and Kolten Wong probably was safe when he tried it, too. “Glenn Brummer, watch out,” said Matheny, making joking reference to the former Cardinals backup catcher who stole home memorably to win an extra-inning game in the World Series year of 1982.
Speedy rookie Oscar Mercado, inserted as a pinch runner in the ninth, stole his fourth and fifth bases of the spring. “He’s fearless,” said Matheny. The Cardinals had five steals for the day.
CECIL TO PITCH
Lefthander Brett Cecil, who hasn’t pitched all spring, having reported to camp late after a death in his family, will pitch in a “B” game against Miami on Wednesday morning before veteran righthander Adam Wainwright faces Washington in the main event.
• The Cardinals and Marlins combined to hit six hitters Tuesday. ... Sandy Alcantara, one of the players traded for Marcell Ozuna, worked three scoreless innings, hitting two. ... And Magneuris Sierra, who also was in the trade, had a double, took third when the Cardinals messed up in the field and drew a bases-loaded walk.