Bullpen intact for first time this spring
Lefty Reyes returns from Classic; Perez back from shoulder discomfort
JUPITER, Fla. -- When the Cardinals play the Astros on Wednesday at Roger Dean Stadium, the St. Louis bullpen will look more like a regular-season relief corps than it has at any point this spring.
New arrival Dennys Reyes will be available to pitch in a game for the first time. Hard-throwing youngster Chris Perez will be back off the shelf after missing nearly two weeks due to shoulder discomfort. And right-hander P.J. Walters will not be around, having been re-assigned to Minor League camp on Monday. That leaves St. Louis with nine relief pitchers still in camp, seven of whom will head north as part of the Major League club.
And, appropriately, the Cardinals' staff will begin using those relievers in game-driven situations, rather than working so much to get each pitcher on his appropriate day.
Reyes, who agreed to a two-year deal with St. Louis earlier this month, joined his new team on Monday. He threw a bullpen session during the Cardinals' win over the Nationals, and hopes to pitch on Wednesday, following St. Louis' off-day on Tuesday. He made three appearances for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
"Most of the guys that went to the World Classic, we weren't 100 percent, and we didn't pitch enough, I think," Reyes said. "So I'm a little bit behind, but I always get ready quick. It doesn't take me long to get back with the guys. Hopefully it will take me a couple outings to get 100 percent."
He'll join Trever Miller and Royce Ring on the left side of the bullpen. However, the signing of Reyes likely means Ring's days are numbered on the Cardinals' Major League roster. It's highly unlikely that the Cards will take three left-handed relievers north, particularly given that all three are best suited as specialists. Ring is out of options, meaning it might well be difficult to assign him to Triple-A Memphis.
On the right side, Perez rejoins a closer competition that appears to have a leader, though unofficially everyone is very much in the mix. Jason Motte has pitched extremely well and has received the bulk of the game-ending opportunities. However, pitching coach Dave Duncan recently said that it's likely the Cardinals will not name a single designated closer before Opening Day.
"I don't think we want to put ourselves in that position where you feel obligated, and then all of a sudden there's a situation that you look at and it's better served doing something different," Duncan said.
While he joins a competition for ninth-inning duties, Perez also joins a competition for a roster spot. Re-assigning Walters leaves the Cardinals with six righties for what will almost certainly be five spots. Ryan Franklin is a certainty. Despite a difficult spring, Kyle McClellan's place also looks secure. After Motte's exceptional spring, it will be all but impossible to send him down.
That would appear to leave Perez, Josh Kinney and Brad Thompson competing for two spots. Thompson is a long reliever, bringing a skill set that no one else in the mix has. But Kinney and Perez have both pitched well, with Kinney coming on strong after a bit of a slow (but still scoreless) start to spring.
So Perez needs to get out and pitch. He believes he's well prepared to do that following Monday's bullpen session.
"It went really well," Perez said. "No pain. I threw 25 or 30 [pitches] full-bore, didn't hold anything back. Fastball, curveball, slider. So hopefully Wednesday. I don't think I need to throw another side."
Thus, he'll be on the list Wednesday, but with no guarantees. Early in spring, teams try to keep pitchers on a consistent schedule -- throwing every second day or third day or whatever it may be. Starting Wednesday, it will be situational. The lefties may be called upon mid-inning to get a key lefty, and pitchers may work on consecutive days.
"We're still not going to abuse anybody by using them three days in a row or something like that," Duncan said. "But say Motte goes out there and pitches an inning and throws 10 pitches. He would be available the next day. If he goes out there and throws 25 pitches, he would not be available the next day. Same as it is during the season. We'll try to use everybody the best we can, but try to make everybody available as if it were the season."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.