JUPITER, Fla. • On a team without a designated closer, the Cardinals have had a flock of righthanded relievers come to the forefront this spring. For example, Matt Bowman is scoreless in four outings, as are John Brebbia, Josh Lucas and young Derian Gonzalez.
Sam Tuivailala is unscored on in three games. Mike Mayers has given up two hits and no runs in five innings. Dominic Leone has allowed one run in three games and John Gant has an earned run average of 2.16. Bud Norris, who had 19 saves for the Los Angeles Angels last year, could turn up late, too.
Luke Gregerson, the presumptive ninth-inning man, has pitched once, striking out two in a perfect inning. But Gregerson doesn’t figure to be pitching for a while. Manager Mike Matheny, however, believes it will be a short while.
Matheny and pitching coach Mike Maddux had Gregerson on the sheet to pitch Tuesday, but he didn’t, and on Wednesday he didn’t work either, with Matheny saying after the Cardinals’ 4-3 win over Washington that Gregerson had some “tightness” in an oblique muscle.
The words “strained oblique” have taken on a connotation not quite as daunting as “torn rotator cuff” or “Tommy John surgery,” but they have sent shivers down the spines of club executives and staffs.
“It’s a little setback,” said Matheny. “But it didn’t seem very bad. It’s amazing how quick (players are) coming back from them.”
Matheny said Gregerson was examined by trainers and doctors and “it came back relatively clean. But it’s something still to be cautious about.
“We’ve got more people here than most hospitals,” Matheny said. “I’m sure they’ve got a picture of it. It wasn’t like of those ones where it’s ‘Whoa.’
“They didn’t give us a time frame. They just said he felt some tightness in there, we’re going to get him looked at and there’s no sense in trying to pitch him at this point.”
The training staff, said Matheny, will call the tune on the schedule now.
“We share schedules,” he said. “But theirs overrides mine, 100 percent. They’ve got to get through their schedule for my schedule to be relevant.”
The Cardinals have 17 spring games remaining.
GARCIA HAS NUMBERS AGAINST SCHERZER
Of all the pitchers Cardinals utilityman Greg Garcia has faced in his 295 big-league games, the one he has drawn the most walks against is three-time Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer of the Nationals.
Garcia has coaxed three walks in 10 regular-season plate appearances against Scherzer. Coupled with his two hits in seven official at-bats, that adds up to a .500 on-base percentage against perhaps the best in the game.
So, perhaps it was not a surprise when Garcia reached base yet again off Scherzer in the second inning. What was a jolt, though, was how Garcia did it. The lefthanded hitter, capping a seven-pitch at-bat, drilled a solo homer off Scherzer, marking the only hit the Mizzou and Parkway Central product gave up over four innings.
“That’s the best at-bat of the spring,” said Matheny. “Scherzer wasn’t (just) working on things today. He was trying to get guys out. He threw (Garcia) the kitchen sink. That was a great at-bat if he’d struck out.”
Garcia had been off to his usual slow start in spring with just two hits in 15 at-bats, but he was two for three Wednesday, also singling in the fifth inning off lefthander Sean Doolittle.
“He’s a pro,” said Matheny. “It’s always a challenge to get him the repetitions to stay sharp. But he’s one of those winning-style players.”
CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK
Backup catcher Francisco Pena, son of former Cardinals catcher Tony Pena, saved the potential go-ahead run in the top of the eighth when he scrambled to recover Bowman’s pitch in the dirt with the bases loaded and, sliding in front of the screen like a shortstop, then threw to Bowman covering the plate for the final out.
“I’m sure (Pena) would tell you he wanted to block that ball,” said Matheny. “It balances out.”
Then Pena, who had been just one for seven this spring, singled in the winning run in the home eighth.
Conner Greene walked home the tying run before Pena made his quick recovery of a Bowman delivery in the dirt that got away from him.
“It was a pretty bad pitch,” said Bowman.
Like other clubs, the Cardinals work on defending such an instance in the spring, but the manager, a former catcher, and pitching coach Mike Maddux have different interpretations of what kind of play it is they’re defending.
“This is where Maddux and I have a huge disagreement,” joked Matheny. “He calls it the ‘passed ball’ play. I call it the ‘wild pitch ball.’ We’ve kind of agreed to disagree.
“’Wild pitch’ isn’t as dirty a phrase as ‘passed ball,’ to a catcher,” said Matheny.
Pena, 28, has been in the New York Mets’ system and that of Baltimore in an 11-year career with just 57 big-league at-bats to show for it. He figures to be at Memphis this season but Pena said, “I’m still young and I can still play the game. I’ve still got some good years in me. That’s what keeps me going.
“I just take the advice that my dad always told me: ‘Control what you can control and play the game hard.’”
CECIL MAKES DEBUT IN ‘B’ GAME
In a “B” game, Cardinals lefthander Brett Cecil made his first appearance of the spring, allowing two hits and one run in one inning against the Miami Marlins. Cecil had reported late for personal reasons.
Maddux said, “He threw a big bullpen (session) two days ago and what we worked on, he carried out there.”
Slugging outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who has been out some 10 days with his own oblique strain, pinch ran Wednesday as the first step toward playing. ... Injured first baseman Matt Carpenter (back) hit off a tee for the first time in some three weeks. ... Speedy outfielder Oscar Mercado made a sterling catch in foul ground in left after running a long way. ... Shortstop Paul DeJong overcame an error and three strikeouts by making a diving grab of a deflected ball and helped turn it into a double play.